National consultation launched over convicted councillors holding office

A SADDLEWORTH woman has triggered a national campaign which could lead to key changes in laws on councillors found guilty of serious crimes holding public office.

Cllr Mike Buckley

The new rules could mean anyone given an anti-social behaviour injunction, criminal behaviour order or added to the sex offenders’ register would no longer be able to hold elected office in their communities.

The issue was raised by determined local resident Holly Wood who, backed by local Parish councillors, campaigned to have Saddleworth Parish Councillor Mike Buckley removed from office.

Cllr Buckley signed the sex offenders’ register in January 2016 after being found guilty at Manchester Crown Court of downloading indecent images of young boys.

He has been removed from all committees on Saddleworth Parish Council following a vote by fellow councillors, but could not be deselected as a councillor.

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, convened a meeting between Parish Councillors and Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government, in May 2016 to discusses the rules.

Now, the Government has launched a public consultation on the criteria required to disqualify individuals from public office.

Mrs Abrahams said: “I’m pleased the Government is finally launching this consultation.

“Saddleworth Parish Council has found itself in an unenviable situation which has affected the smooth running of parish council business for far too long.

“It is deeply regrettable the Government has taken so long to react to such a serious safeguarding issue. These delays do not reflect well on politics, politicians or democracy.”

Ms Wood emailed more than 300 councils across the UK asking them for support in her bid to change the law and oust Cllr Buckley.

She said: “I welcome the Government taking the steps to ensure no registered child sex offender can stand as a local councillor or mayor.

“The time this has taken is disappointing but it gives great hope for communities that they will not have to endure somebody such as Cllr Buckley representing them.

“I will continue to pursue this matter right until the end and ensure this change in the law does happen.”

Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government, has set out plans to strengthen rules to prevent anyone found guilty of serious crimes from serving on local councils.

Current rules make clear that anyone convicted of an offence carrying a prison sentence of more than three months is banned from serving as a local councillor.

The new rules could mean anyone given an anti-social behaviour injunction, criminal behaviour order or added to the sex offenders’ register would no longer be able to hold elected office in their communities.

Mr Jones said: “Councillors hold an important position of trust and authority in communities. We need to hold them to the highest possible standards.

“The current rules are letting residents and councils down by not preventing people who should never be considered for such roles from standing for election.

“The changes the government is proposing would help make sure anyone convicted of a serious crime, regardless of whether it comes with a custodial sentence, will not be able to serve as a councillor.”

Many of the current regulations were implemented in 1972, before the sex offenders register or other non-custodial orders existed.

The proposed new measures would bring rules into the present day by including the alternatives to a prison sentence also becoming a barrier to being a councillor.

The government is asking councils and communities for their views on proposed changes, until 5pm on December 8, 2017. View the consultation paper and respond online.

 

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