Cracking the governance code

9 Jul 14
Eleanor Roy

The dismissal of the Welsh government’s environment minister highlights both the key role that a code of conduct plays in governance - and the challenge organisations face in ‘policing’ adherence 

Last week the Welsh government’s Natural Resources & Food Minister, Alun Davies AM, apologised to the National Assembly for Wales after an inquiry by the Permanent Secretary judged that he had breached the Ministerial Code.

The Minister was lobbying for a racing track to be built in his constituency. In doing so, he had written to Natural Resources Wales (NRW), a body for which he has ministerial oversight, thus presenting a potential conflict between his constituency and ministerial roles. At the time the First Minister decided not to sack the environment minister, although he stated that he ‘could have been clearer’ that he was writing to NRW in his capacity as an AM rather than as minister.

A further potential breach of the code, by the same minister, was brought to light this week; as it has now emerged that he had asked civil servants to provide him with information on farm subsidy payments made to other AMs. Because this could be viewed as a breach in relation to using Welsh government resources for party-political purposes, it resulted in his dismissal from the Cabinet.

CIPFA considers that a code of conduct is an essential part of the governance arrangements for the governing body of any institution, particularly in terms of a government or parliamentary environment, where the exercise of functions whilst acting in the public interest is of paramount importance. The question is; how can compliance with such codes be ensured? Events over the past week in Wales have demonstrated how the effectiveness of such codes could be called into question.

In a recent response to the Review of Members’ Code of Conduct being undertaken by the Northern Ireland Assembly, CIPFA highlighted the issue of compartmentalisation of codes of conduct for AMs and ministers, and recommended that as both codes apply to ministers, there should be no room for confusion with a clear differentiation between the two roles.

We also highlighted how adherence to such codes of conduct can be enforced by identifying a need for positive leadership and embedding of the code within the culture of the organisation. It would seem that the actions of the Minister for Natural Resources & Food demonstrate, at best, that such confusion around the applicability of the Ministerial Code does exist, and that work remains to be done to clarify and ensure adherence in this regard.

It is issues such as this that CIPFA’s Governance Mark of Excellence seeks to identify, by helping organisations to understand and assess their governance arrangements and aid them in achieving excellence in implementing the systems and processes they have in place.

Dr Eleanor Roy is research consultant for CIPFA Scotland


Did you enjoy this article?