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Posted by: John Brace | 18th January 2014

The letter Wirral Council wrote gagging Councillor Gilchrist

The letter Wirral Council wrote gagging Councillor Gilchrist

                         

Just before Christmas started I published a letter from Cllr Phil Davies to Cllr Jeff Green that was also published on Wirral Council’s website.

To recap it involves a male senior councillor in the Labour Group who made an “adverse comment” about an unnamed senior employee at Wirral Council. The councillor admitted he did make the comment and a report was written detailing that this Labour councillor had breached the Code of Conduct.

Previously if there’s been a report detailing a councillor has breached the Code of Conduct, even if officers recommended the report be exempt, the Standards Panel have decided to make the report public as you can see from that previous blog post detailing a seven page report and two page appendix into an allegation that former Councillor Denis Knowles breached the Councillor’s Code of Conduct in relation to a comment he made online.

Since then, in the Summer of 2012 the legislation regarding complaints made about councillors breaching the Code of Conduct has changed. This explanatory note on Wirral Council’s website explains some of the changes, but basically there are now two legal requirements on Wirral Council. The first on Wirral Council is that it “must promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Member and Co-opted Members” (Members in this context means councillors and Co-opted Members means people co-opted to Council committees). The second legal requirement is that they must have arrangements in place for investigating allegations and making decisions on allegations. The policy on this is here, the new Code of Conduct here and a an online form for people to use is here. Wirral Council has also appointed four independent persons that have a role in determining whether complaints made are worthy of investigation.

The letter to Cllr Phil Gilchirst basically asking him to sign a commitment gagging him from talking to anyone about what was in the investigator’s report can be read by following that link and to my knowledge is published for the first time in full on this blog (although there is a Wirral Globe story headlined “Wirral Council accused of ‘over the top’ secrecy” that quotes from it).

So do you think we should return to making investigator’s reports public if they have a finding that a councillor (and he acknowledges that he did in this case) breached the Code of Conduct? Surely if the “senior officer” wants their name kept out of it, the report could be released with their name redacted and does not naming the councillor involved make people think that Wirral Council takes its legal obligation that it “must promote and maintain high standards conduct by Member and Co-opted Members” seriously? Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on these questions.

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Responses

  1. Former council leader Jeff Green once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

    And here’s an example of staggering hypocrisy from Councillor Gilchrist:

    http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/yoursay/wirralletters/10754773.New_Wirral_council_committees_do_not_do_enough_digging/?action=success

    “Varying degrees of mendacity, targeted toadying and political opportunism” would best describe the motives of these incompetent crooks.

    • Yes and I think Cllr Jeff Green believes that. However, opposition councillors are blocked in their attempts to find out what’s going on behind the scenes under the Labour administration to the extent that it makes it very hard for them to hold the Labour administration to account.

      There seems to be a fear about bad news leaking outside the organisation to the press, when what the public dislike most of all are the seemingly endless attempts to evade answering questions with proper answers and covering anything embarrassing up (in the hope that people will give up asking questions out of sheer frustration).

      Yes in some ways things have improved, but Wirral Council still has a long way to go in restoring openness and accountability in the way it deals with councillors, the press and the public (in my humble opinion anyway).

  2. Denis Knowles does not appear to have sought anonymity which given he made {a kind of} homophobic comment on Facebook is not surprising. John would recommend the publication of details redacting out the Councillor’s name which certainly is preferable to the present cloak and dagger modus operandi.

    Members are people’s champions so I am not sure the offending Councillor deserves anonymity at all whether the officer wishes it to be dealt with confidentially or no. The public need to know about the stamp of that Councillor as much as it needed to know that, for example, Cllr Harry Smith , was barred from council for bad language in the Council chambers. It is surprising for example further to that incident that one can hear “Tory Lackeys, Tory Lackeys” emanating from the Councillor with reference to the Liberal Democrats without him being hauled before the Standards committee.

    I say let us read the report and know the couincillor without knowing the officer traduced.

    • Just one small correction (I’m sure you meant it the other way round) “John would recommend the publication of details redacting out the Councillor’s name”. Didn’t you mean officer?

      Everywhere else (other than Wirral) it seems senior management in a local Council are used to being called a lot of things by politicians without it causing this kind of hoo ha and they just class putting up with robust criticism (or even more than robust criticism) as part of the job.

      Here on Wirral there’s the weird convention (that still seems to be followed) that councillors won’t dare criticise a named officer in a public meeting, the reason for this the public have been told is that “officers can’t answer back”..

      If the senior officer is so keen that their name isn’t known to do with this, then I don’t really see why the report can’t be released with their name redacted (and job description if that’s included too).

      I do know of a time when a Lib Dem councillor heckled a fellow Lib Dem councillor at a full Council meeting as a Tory. A Lib Dem councillor from elsewhere in the public gallery wrote a letter in saying it was a shame that a councillor from another party at a public meeting had heckled a Lib Dem councillor calling them a Tory, only to be corrected and told that it came from one of their own!

      Moving on to your point about Cllr Harry Smith, his punishment was to be suspended as a councillor for a week. He used to have a habit of standing next to the doorway to the Council Chamber and heckling from there (presumably so people in the public gallery wouldn’t see who it was).

  3. Outstanding, John , “you’ll get yourself a crate of beer , for that!” (apologies to Apocalypse Now). Reading your blog is like riding on the helicopters ‘cross the Mekong Delta and I am sitting with my combat helmet covering my balls.

    • Well the military have been sent in previously to Wallasey Town Hall, but as you probably know already, I’m more for political solutions to Wirral’s problems than sending in the troops.

      As to violence and Wirral politics, perhaps next time you see my wife you should ask her about the time she was shot in the eye with a staple gun and its probable connection to Wirral politics? Or about the time she was violently attacked by a Labour supporter shortly after I asked for publication of the Anna Klonowski Associates report at a full Council meeting?

  4. “These ******* savages!”
    {Apocalypse Now when Vietnamese woman lobs grenade into attack helicopter}

    Your correction is correct . TruthMaster.


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