Council whistleblowers could get FoI protection

By David Rose

Whistleblowing councillors may soon be free to disclose information
to the media if they can demonstrate they are acting in the public
interest.

The code of conduct under which councillors in England operate is to
be reviewed to bring it into line with the new Freedom of Information
Act.

Making the announcement in Parliament, local government
minister Yvette Cooper said the review would be “explicitly asking for
views in whistleblowing issues, including the case for a public
interest defence”.

Under present rules councillors can be
reported to the Standards Board for England if they break their
authority’s confidentially code.

The Standards Board will begin
consulting next month before making recommendations to the Government
in June. The outcome is expected to make the public interest test more
explicit to provide greater clarity for councillors and the public.

The
Government’s move follows protests by Labour MPs over complaints made
against Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group on Westminster
City Council, for providing the BBC with background information about
the way the council recovered the debt owed by disgraced former
Conservative leader, Dame Shirley Porter.

Next week Dimoldenberg
is to appear before an adjudication panel to defend himself against a
charge that he brought the council into disrepute by talking to the BBC.

Labour
MP Peter Bradley told Ms Cooper during a Commons debate: “He is
arraigned for exercising his judgment and revealing wrong-doing.”

Ms
Cooper said: “It is important that consideration of these issues should
be fully transparent and also that councillors and the public know
exactly where they stand.”

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