Parish faces crisis of conscience

By David LennardMEMBERS of a tiny parish council in north Suffolk face a difficult decision on whether to sign a controversial code of conduct which they have opposed.

By David Lennard

MEMBERS of a tiny parish council in north Suffolk face a difficult decision on whether to sign a controversial code of conduct which they have opposed.

Like many parish councillors, members of Heveningham Parish Council felt the code of conduct they were being asked to sign was “a huge infringement on privacy”.

All parish councils are required to adopt the new code of conduct. As part of its guidelines, councillors are obliged to sign a register declaring land and business interests in the area they serve.

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All seven members of Heveningham Parish Council refused to sign the code of conduct last year, but will have to do so this year if they want to remain on the authority after the May elections.

Heveningham is a tiny community with a population of less than 100 and parish councillors felt being asked to sign the new code was not something they could support.

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Announcing the decision last year not to sign the code of conduct, parish council chairman Alan Rush said: “The parish council has not adopted the code of conduct because it considers itself powerless.

“It considers the register of interest is a huge infringement on privacy for what is essentially a voluntary and powerless job where even our opinions are ignored.”

Mr Rush said yesterday he was still convinced the new code was an “unnecessary infringement” and confirmed none of the parish councillors had signed it.

“We have been in contact with Suffolk Coastal District Council about this matter over the past months and hope to have the latest information before our next meeting,” he added.

“We are in a difficult position because, as I understand it, no-one can become a parish councillor if they have not signed up to the new code.”

Mr Rush said all seven parish councillors had agreed to “stand aside” if new candidates who were prepared to sign the code could be found in the village.

“I have to say that finding new candidates is not going to be easy. If there are no new candidates, then we will be left in an extremely difficult position as we want to represent the village community, but as a matter of principle oppose the new code of conduct,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Suffolk Association of Local Councils said the “vast majority” of parish councillors had signed the new code.

“We are providing all prospective parish councillors who will be standing as candidates in the coming local elections with full details of the register they will be asked to sign,” she added.

“People standing at the local elections know that they will be required to sign the register.”

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