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20/04/2016

Career development: Updates to RTPI professional conduct and ethics advice

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The RTPI has updated its Code of Conduct, and for the first time issued guidance notes on how to ethically navigate challenging professional situations. Martha Harris finds out what’s new and what it means for your day-to-day practice.

Code of Conduct core principles

 

  1. Competence, honesty and integrity
  2. Independent professional judgement
  3. Due care and diligence
  4. Equality and respect
  5. Professional behaviour

The RTPI’s Code of Conduct has been a mainstay requirement of the institute’s byelaws as a means to guide practitioners, but also a tool to reinforce the institute’s purpose of advancing the “science and art of planning” for the benefit of the public.

As the planning environment changes, however, so must the code.

In February, the RTPI published an updated version of the code, following advice from its Membership and Ethics Committee, the Conduct and Discipline Panel and discussion with members.

For the first time, the code will be accompanied by practical advice – to be issued in early April – to all individual members and members working as consultants or managers in organisations.

“A conduct and ethics review carried out last year and feedback received from members confirmed that the Code of Conduct’s key principles remain fit for purpose,” said Andrew Close, the RTPI’s head of careers, education and professional development.

“Some revisions to supporting clauses, format and terminology have been made, and for the first time the code is supported by guidance notes on professional ethics and business practice, which seek to guide members through key ethical dilemmas they may face in their day-to-day practice.”

The aim is for any advice notes to build on lessons learnt from conduct queries raised by RTPI members and members of the public. They can be updated on a periodic basis as other professional issues and good practice come to light.

Changes to the Code of Conduct

 

The RTPI says the code exists to “protect and guide planning practitioners”, and to serve as a “tool to maintain public trust in the profession”.

The institute’s five key principles that govern professional behaviours, ethics and practice of planners remain. These are strengthened by additional clauses, while the fundamental requirement for members to “exercise fearlessly and impartially their independent professional judgement to the best of their skill and understanding” remains central to the code.

Key changes:

 

Introduction: A new section explaining the reasons and benefits of a Code of Conduct, and giving greater prominence to the five core principles.
 
Competence, honesty and integrity: New practice includes: responsibility of managers to support the Continued Professional Development of employees; undertaking work within the scope of competence; not offering or accepting inducements to influence decisions or professional views.
 
Independent professional judgement: New practice includes disclosure of RTPI membership as a mark of professional standing. The expectation to act fearlessly and impartially is retained following support from members.

Professional behaviour: New practice includes upholding the reputation of the institute, reflecting the requirement in RTPI byelaws.

Professional Ethics Guidance

 

Chartered town planners and RTPI members serve a range of interests, which can give rise to a number of ethical challenges that must be carefully considered.

As a planner, acting in the public interest involves having regard to the expectations of clients, employers, the local community and politicians as well as future generations.

Tensions can often arise when trying to reconcile these different interests and challenges, and this is what the new guidance seeks to clarify.

The advice covers a number of topics:

  • Maintaining standards
  • Ethical challenges
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Acting fearlessly and impartially
  • Giving evidence at inquiries
  • Confidentiality
  • Gifts and hospitality
  • Diversity and equality
  • Consulting with the public
  • Dealing with discriminatory representations
  • Acting competently
  • Accuracy, referencing and recording of information
  • Errors and mis-statements
  • Acting professionally
  • Use of social media
  • Raising concerns in the workplace
  • Criminal convictions


Guidance for RTPI members working in consultancies or businesses, or members who manage the work of others, includes:

  • Managing conflicts of interest
  • Inclusive working practices
  • Working overseas
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Maintaining professional competence
  • Supporting staff training
  • Access to training
  • Bidding for commissions
  • Advertising planning services
  • Use of the RTPI’s logo
  • Professional indemnity insurance
  • Terms of engagement and fees

Examples of ethics

 

Alongside broader guidance on how to navigate common professional dilemmas, the guidance includes relevant case studies to illustrate the RTPI’s position and compliance with the code in specific situations.

Cited examples regarding conflicts of interest include:

“A consultant member had been advising his local community group in a voluntary capacity. The member owned a parcel of land within its plan area, which the group had identified as suitable for residential development. Concerned about the appearance of bias, the member declared an interest and stepped down from his commission. Had the member continued to act and was party to decisions in which he stood to benefit financially, he would have been in breach of the code for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure his personal and professional interests do not conflict.

“A complaint was received about an RTPI member renting office space from former client, a developer, while sitting on a parish council advisory group promoting a site allocation owned by the developer. The member was found in breach of the code for failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent a conflict of duty from arising. The member received a warning for their conduct.”


Acting fearlessly and impartially

 

Colin Haylock, former RTPI president and chair of the Membership and Ethics Committee, says a key focus in the creation of the new guidance was the duty of members within the code to “act fearlessly and impartially” in their professional judgement

“We are aware that members may find there are circumstances within their practice where they think that a fearless and impartial opinion might not actually be welcome,” says Haylock.

“We wanted to be more specific and give better examples on how to deal with this, so that should a member find themselves in a difficult professional situation, they can justify their decision by the requirements of their professional standing.

“Most planning decisions are rarely black and white – there are shades in them,” explains Haylock. “It is often about spotting areas of difficulty in advance, and finding ways to navigate these without compromising your position. We wanted to more concretely support and protect members in these circumstances.

“Our aim with the guidance was to try and make as clear and as tangible as possible things which were quite difficult to grasp in the code. We have tried to craft guidance that is realistic, but still principled.”


The new guidance will be available at the beginning of April, and can be viewed here.

The updated code of conduct can be viewed here.

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