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No sign, no office for councillors

PUBLISHED: 00:55 10 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:37 03 March 2010

AN entire parish council has had to be replaced after councillors failed to sign an undertaking to comply with a new code of conduct, effectively disqualifying themselves from office.

AN entire parish council has had to be replaced after councillors failed to sign an undertaking to comply with a new code of conduct, effectively disqualifying themselves from office.

It meant an election had to be held for new councillors at Norton Parish Council, near Bury St Edmunds, but only two people stood.

They have both been elected uncontested and three mid Suffolk district councillors will now also serve on the parish council until more residents can be persuaded to take up office.

East Bergholt Parish Council has also had to recruit a new councillor following his resignation over the code of conduct and declaration of interests.

The new code of conduct requires councillors to disclose details including their financial and land interests in their own villages.

Philip Tallent, administration manager for Mid Suffolk District Council, said: "Earlier this year Norton Parish Council adopted the provisions of the new code of conduct for councillors.

"However, none of the nine parish councillors have signed the undertaking to comply with the code and are there for disqualified from office.

"The parish council is unable to function until at least three councillors are either elected or appointed, to make up a quorum."

The district council ordered an election and two people were elected uncontested. District councillors Audrey Lilley, Anthony Fowler and George Frost will also serve on the parish council until seven villagers can be co-opted to serve at the parish council.

Rebecca Scrase, spokeswoman for the district council, said: "The three district councillors will all stand in as well and their first task is to get seven electors to make up the numbers and then they will resign."

A spokeswoman for the Suffolk Association of Local Councils said there was confusion over exactly what was required under the new code of conduct, with some people thinking its requirement were more onerous than they were.

She added some councillors mistakenly believed the code meant they had to disclose financial interests for their families as well.

East Bergholt Parish Council has also had to recruit a new councillor following his resignation over the code of conduct and declaration of interests.

Brian Beeston, a retired businessman, of Heath Road, who has been a councillor since 1995, refused to sign the declaration of interests.

He said: "I don't think it's right that other people should know what your businesses are. One of the questions was 'If you are in business, have you borrowed any money?'. I don't think it matters if a company had borrowed money.

"I've been a parish councillor for seven years and if it wasn't for the code of conduct, I would have carried on. I just couldn't come to sign it. It was delving too much into people's private lives and business lives."

Mr Beeston added he was concerned the introduction of the code could deter other people from standing for election. "I do think it will make it more difficult to persuade people to stand," he said.

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