School and college governors and quango members who abuse their position could face jail under a new criminal offence of misuse of public office proposed by the Nolan Committee on standards in public life.
The Home Office has launched a consultation on the scope of the offence, which Lord Nolan believes should apply widely to all public-sector office-holders.
It would certainly cover councillors and council officers, as well as government ministers, civil servants, police and the judiciary and members of quangos such as the Funding Agency for Schools.
But it could extend to further and higher education, training and enterprise councils and even to school governors as office-holders spending public money. Peter Rose, spokesman for Lord Nolan's committee, said: "If (school governors) behave improperly or recklessly in a way that does not uphold the public interest and use their position to further their private or political interest there is an argument that says they should be covered."
The new offence is one of 39 recommendations in Lord Nolan's report on local government - the third of his investigations into standards in public life.
Others include a new code of conduct for councillors - based on a model to be set by Parliament - under which they would be obliged to register their own and their family's financial and non-financial interests and declare those interests in any local council debate.
Lord Nolan criticised existing laws and arrangements for codes of conduct and declarations of interests as "a confused and confusing mixture ... (which) can easily lead to wrongdoing".
If Lord Nolan's recommendations are accepted by the Government, councils will be told to set up a standards committee with the power to suspend councillors for up to three months. A local government tribunal would hear appeals.
The Nolan Committee is also attempting to clarify the financial liabilities of school governors. A report is expected in the next few weeks.