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Councillor given maximum suspension after ‘trivial row’ raises bias concerns about committee

15 May 2024 5 minute read
Councillor Steven Bletsoe

Martin Shipton

A councillor who was given the maximum possible suspension following what began as a trivial row over a potential royal visit has raised questions about the supposedly independent committee that ruled on his case.

Steven Bletsoe is an Independent member of both Bridgend County Borough Council and Bridgend Town Council. Together with colleagues he complained about Sinead Cook, the Investigations Team Manager at the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, who posted a series of offensive messages – including “F*** the Tories” – indicating she had political bias while using several pseudonyms. After being exposed by Nation.Cymru, she resigned from her job.

The scandal led to allegations that non-Labour councillors sometimes received harsher treatment than Labour councillors when complaints were made about them. A review is currently underway to see whether such allegations are borne out. Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies has said he has no confidence in the Ombudsman’s office, and has called for it to be closed down and a new body set up.

Plaque

In 2022, during a meeting of Bridgend Town Council’s regeneration committee, chaired by Cllr Bletsoe, a discussion took place about the possibility of inviting the then Prince Charles to unveil a plaque to honour Bridgend-born John Thomas, who was Royal Harpist to Queen Victoria. Cllr Bletsoe’s wife Freya Bletsoe, also a councillor, suggested after consulting the Lord Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan Peter Vaughan that the discussion should take place in private: if the invitation to the Prince was declined, it would embarrass him if the request was in the public domain, and if he accepted, there would be security considerations. The clerk to the committee disagreed and there was a robust exchange of views.

At the next meeting of the committee, Cllr Steven Bletsoe objected to the minutes of the meeting, claiming they did not accurately reflect what happened and that they broke normal procedure by going into too much detail about the exchange of words between his wife and the committee clerk. In terms of accuracy, he said the minutes failed to say that his wife had said sorry when leaving. Committee members agreed to change the minutes accordingly.

The clerk to the town council then made a complaint about Cllr Steven Bletsoe to the Ombudsman, claiming that he should have declared an interest and not complained about the minutes because he was the husband of Cllr Freya Bletsoe.

Report

A sub-committee of Bridgend County Borough Council’s standards committee considered a report from the Ombudsman on the case and decided to suspend Cllr Steven Bletsoe from the town council for six months – the longest possible suspension. If the penalty remains after he appeals, Cllr Bletsoe will lose his seat because councillors have to attend at least one meeting every six months.

Cllr Bletsoe says people from all parties have told him they think his suspension from the council is “way over the top”. He has now raised concerns about the impartiality of the sub-committee that imposed his six month suspension. It comprised a Labour councillor and three “independent” lay members of the standards committee.

One of the independent sub-committee members, Roy Lynch, was a Labour council candidate in Blaenau Gwent in 2017, while another – Sue Maughan, the overall chair of the standards committee – has “liked” or reposted many anti-Tory posts on social media, indicating, according to Cllr Bletsoe, a pattern of political bias. This includes reposting “The Big Fat Tory Tw@t Quiz”, as well as reposting numerous posts that are critical of the last three Tory Prime Ministers – Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.

‘Dismayed’

Cllr Bletsoe said: “I am shocked and dismayed at the information that I have been given around the standards committee I sat in front of last week. Completely astounded.

“I have found no evidence that the committee members or Chair have received any ongoing training or code of conduct requirements to actually be on the committee but the information I have now seen shows a clear political bias of at least two members who sat alongside a Labour councillor in handing out a 6 month sanction for this accusation. This is on top of a senior Public Services Ombudsman staff member ‘resigning’ after making disparaging public comments about me and other non Labour councillors and Senedd Members on social media.

“The public must have faith in the system and that simply doesn’t exist any longer. I stated in my hearing that I was at a loss as to how this process could be so openly biased and prejudicial, but I am now simply stunned into a state of disbelief, as I’m sure the public will be too. I will be seeking clarification on this matter and potential legal advice at the earliest opportunity.”

A spokesman for Bridgend County Borough Council said: “Appointments to the standards committee are made in full accordance with all relevant regulations. Independent members were interviewed by a standards interview panel, then recommended to a meeting of full council where they were formally appointed. The independent members have also received relevant training in the Code of Conduct.

“Cllr Bletsoe has been notified of the decision of the standards committee, and of his right of appeal. If he chooses to appeal, this would be the appropriate forum for him to air his concerns.”


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Independent truth!
Independent truth!
5 days ago

This person has been taken to court by HMRC for not paying tax! Been in trouble for painting a wall with a mural on a building that wasn’t his, was given a 0 food hygiene rating when he had a toffee shop, hounded and bullied people who don’t agree with him and his wife. Never his fault. Their usual MO: “play victim and blame others” they are trying to discredit the ombudsman before his wife has her hearing next month. Absolutely right to suspend him and just the tip of the iceberg!

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