Don't quit those in charge told

DON'T go!That's the message to parish councillors quitting office in protest at new government rules forcing them to declare their investments and allegiances.

DON'T go!

That's the message to parish councillors quitting office in protest at new government rules forcing them to declare their investments and allegiances.

As councillors across the county consider their futures, the secretary of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils has stepped in to try to assure them that the controversial new code of conduct will have little effect on their service.

"Although the code demands the highest standards from councillors, I have no doubt that from my experience of working for 350 parish and town councils for five and a half years that they will have little trouble in abiding by it," said Mary Mitson-Woods.

"I would appeal to all parish and town councillors not to resign and deprive their communities of the value and commitment built up over the years."

Three councillors from Trimley St Mary have already resigned in protest at the code, and a fourth is expected to follow suit later this month.

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Nigel Bantoft, Brian Greening and Colin D'Eath dramatically handed in letters of resignation and then walked out at the end of the annual parish meeting.

They were angry at having to sign a public register giving details of financial investments which may have a bearing on their decision-making, jobs, unions and organisations they belong to, and to act as informants on their colleagues.

They say it is an infringement of their rights and a right cheek when they do not have any power at all anyway.

Mrs Mitson-Woods said there was a great deal of misunderstanding over what information was required by the code and why it had to be given.

There was no need for details of private clubs to be given, though membership or positions of control or management in charities, other local authorities, trade unions, organisations committed to influencing public opinion – such as political

parties – and professional bodies had to be declared.

However, there was no sinister reason for doing so and in many cases the declaration will protect councillors.

"The idea is that these indicate to the public where members are coming from and which councillor would be best to contact on a certain matter," she added.

Councillors are only required to list in their register land in which they have a beneficial interest within their own parish.

Holdings in corporations need only be listed if they are above £25,000 face value or are more than one per cent of the total value of that body. This is only necessary if the body has an interest in land or property in the parish.

The resigning Trimley councillors though felt the declarations were an invasion of privacy and bureaucracy gone mad, when all they wanted to do was represent and improve their community.

Any parish councillor who fails to sign the new register of interests within 28 days of the new Code of Conduct being adopted nationally on May 5 will be disqualified from serving as a councillor.

Alun Michael, minister of state for rural affairs, said the government recognised the efforts of parish councils and was not attempting to abolish them or secretly monitoring their effectiveness.