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The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.

Why duty is still relevant

22nd September 2022

The recent passing of Her Majesty the Queen led many to note that she led a life of public service, dedication and duty. The late Queen continued to perform her official duties until the very end of her life, even accepting the resignation of the former Prime Minister and appointing a new one in her last week.

In 1995, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Nolan Committee) identified seven principles of conduct underpinning public life; being:

·       Selflessness

·       Integrity

·       Objectivity

·       Accountability

·       Openness

·       Honesty

·       Leadership

The Committee recommended that public bodies should incorporate these principles in Codes of Conduct for their members.

The then Scottish Executive expanded upon the Nolan Committee’s recommendations when it drafted the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, which introduced statutory Codes of Conduct for Councillors and Board Members of Devolved Public Bodies and established the Standards Commission. The further principles of duty (public service) and respect were incorporated into the Codes.

So, what is meant by duty (or public service) and why is it an essential part of the ethical standards framework?

The Councillors’ Code states that councillors have a duty to uphold the law and act in accordance with the law and the public trust placed in them. It notes that they have a duty to act in the interests of their council as a whole and all the communities served by it, and recognises that they have a duty to be accessible to all the people of the area for which they have been elected to serve, and to represent their interests conscientiously.

Similarly, the Model Code for Members of Devolved Public Bodies states that Members have a duty to uphold the law and act in accordance with the law and the public trust placed in them. The Code states that Members have a duty to act in the interests of the public body of which they are a member and in accordance with the core functions and duties of that body.

Councils and public bodies provide a wide range of services to all citizens. In doing so, they are entrusted with spending vast amounts of public funds. It is essential, therefore, that in making fundamental decisions about how those services are to be delivered and funds spent, Councillors and Members should seek to serve their communities and service users, and the council or public body; and not their own interests or those of their political party, friends or family.

It is recognised that, of course, individuals in public life are remunerated and appointments can help further careers. But it is nevertheless essential that those in public service should view their role as being an opportunity to act in the best interests of their fellow citizens, and their council or public body; rather than for their own advantage or that of their political party, friends or family.

Regardless of one’s views on the monarchy, few would disagree with the view that the late Queen upheld, and abided by, the key principle of duty and acted in accordance with the trust the public placed in her. This dedication to duty should be an example to all in public life.