All Scarborough borough councillors to undergo respect training after allegations of 'bullying'

Scarborough borough councillors are to be given training in how to be civil towards each after concerns were raised that they seem to have an “issue” with respect.

By Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 25th March 2021, 3:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 3:02 pm

The council’s legal director, Lisa Dixon, told a meeting of the Standards Committee today that all members would take part in the training which would act as a refresher on the members code of conduct.

It follows allegations of bullying and harassment by unnamed councillors towards other members and claims that “tit for tat” standards complaints are being made following heated meetings of the authority.

Members of the committee had earlier been given an update on the standards complaints made against councillors since 2019, none of which had been upheld.

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Unnamed councillors have been accused of bullying, harassment and "tit for tat" standards complaints.

Mrs Dixon told the committee that all members would now take part in training from noted solicitor Jonathan Goolden, who has worked on the Local Government Association’s new code of conduct proposals, centred around Scarborough’s code of conduct.

She added: “We have identified that at the moment we seem to have an issue within the areas of respect towards other members and conduct on those lines.

“So we will be asking him to focus on that in his first session of the training.”

Mrs Dixon said that she hoped councillors would also support the Compassion in Politics group coming to speak to the authority about its message of “more compassion in politics” and how not to resort to “unpleasant and vicious attacks” when confronted with a differing view.

She said it was that the training would be held when councillors can meet once more in person.

More than 50 standards complaints were lodged against borough and parish councillors in the last two years, with none of them being found to warrant further action.

There were no figures for 2021 but a number of complaints have been lodged against members already this year, in particular following a bad-tempered meeting in January when a vote of no confidence motion was held against leader Cllr Steve Siddons.

A recent freedom of information request showed that six of 18 complaints lodged since December last year had been submitted by one councillor.

Cllr Bill Chatt, who brought the motion of no confidence vote in January, told today’s committee that complaints were being used as a way to attack other members.

He said: “I do believe that since Christmas [standards complaints] have been used as a bit of a tool to bully and intimidate other councillors by a certain councillor.”

Cllr Chatt said that councillors making “tit for tat” complaints should be identified. Currently, unless complaints are upheld no details of either the nature of the complaint or who it is against is made public.

Mrs Dixon said there was a system in place to deal with complaints that are believed to be “politically motivated”.

The committee also heard that the majority of the complaints for 2020 had been made by members of the public rather than councillors.

Cllr Guy Coulson likened the situation following a full council meeting to that of Ofcom which may be flooded with complaints after a controversial television show.

The council is also to set up a working group to look at possible changes to its code of conduct which could see councillors who breach rules suspended for up to six months under changes being considered by Scarborough Council.

The new Model Member Code of Conduct from the Local Government Association (LGA) has made a number of recommendations that councils across the country are being urged to adopt.

These include changes that would see councillors deemed to be acting in their role as an elected member when they are using social media, something which is not currently the case.

Sanctions for councillors, which were all but removed following a national review in 2011, could also return.

The LGA review has recommended that local authorities be given the power to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months. Suspended councillors would be able to appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The review found that the low-level censures that could currently be given were being used as a “badge of honour” by councillors to show that they were not part of the “establishment”.

Mrs Dixon told the meeting: “It is a commonly held view by monitoring officers across the country that the sanctions for non-compliance with the code of conduct are not strong enough and do need reviewing.”

The working group will look into any possible changes to Scarborough Council’s code of conduct but a final decision would require a vote of the full council.