Council keeps secret result of probe into official who ridiculed opposition councillors
A council has refused to reveal the result of an investigation into a local politician-turned official who insulted and ridiculed opposition councillors on social media, claiming that to do so would break data protection law.
Stuart Baldwin was the cabinet member for communities at Labour-controlled Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) last year when he applied for a £50,000 job with the authority and was interviewed by his own officers.
He was appointed to the role of climate change response manager in the authority’s communities directorate.
Council officers cannot also be councillors on the local authorities for which they work, but Mr Baldwin was already a candidate seeking re-election when he was offered the job.
He got re-elected but resigned his seat days later to take up the climate change post.
At first Mr Baldwin said he had decided to apply for the officer’s role because he was tired of the “toxic” nature of local politics, but later said he could no longer comment because as a council officer he was not authorised to do so.
More recently a number of opposition councillors told chief executive Mark Shephard that they did not want to work or engage with Mr Baldwin after becoming aware of his participation in a number of WhatsApp groups linked to Bridgend Labour Party where disparaging comments were made about opposition councillors and some members of the public.
Mr Baldwin’s job is politically restricted, meaning that he is prevented from having any active political role either in or outside of work. Some opposition councillors take the view that Mr Baldwin has, in some of the WhatsApp messages he has posted since ceasing to be a councillor and becoming a council officer, breached the political impartiality they believe he should maintain.
Among the messages written by Mr Baldwin that they have complained about are one in which he recounts how he told a homeless person to ‘f… off” after “he said it’s people like me being corrupt that cause people like him to sleep in the street”.
In other messages Mr Baldwin said a sitting Independent councillor physically resembled a picture he’d been sent of a convicted paedophile, asserted that another Independent councillor was “talking shit” and said a third councillor was a “dick”.
According to opposition councillors, the WhatsApp messages also showed Mr Baldwin helping Labour council candidates to fill in their post-election paperwork and seeking to influence Labour councillors on BCBC and Bridgend Town Council to pursue projects favoured by him over suggestions made by Independent councillors.
He suggested that Labour councillors should “work on” an Independent councillor who had stepped back from committee work to focus on the final year of her nursing degree. He also offered Labour councillors advice on how to get off if they were the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman about their conduct. Mr Baldwin wrote: “Give the Ombudsman everything with both barrels and don’t hold back.”
Independent councillors in Bridgend issued a statement which said: “A whistleblower provided us with hundreds of screenshots from Labour Party WhatsApp chats. We were concerned about the content and conduct of members in those screenshots particularly in relation to their comments regarding members of the public and independent councillors.
“However, it immediately became apparent that a former Labour councillor, who now holds a politically restricted role as an officer within BCBC, continues to be influential within the party including the administration of group chats.
“Concerns have been raised formally with senior BCBC officers by a number of individuals. It is now for them to take action on the issue.”
An internal council investigation into the matter has now been completed, but when we asked about the outcome, a council spokesman would only say: “As a responsible employer, any complaint about staff is considered and dealt with internally in accordance with the council’s own Human Resources policies and procedures.
“Due to the duty of confidentiality implied by law within each contract of employment and the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018, the authority cannot share the outcome of any process relating to an individual member of staff.”
A council opposition source said it was “ridiculous” that data protection was being used as an “excuse” for not revealing the result of an investigation into a matter of serious public interest.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.