Councillors to have ‘respect’ training following ethical complaints
Rory Sheehan – Local Democracy Reporter
Councillors are to receive training on how to respectfully communicate with each other following on number of ethical complaints made to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW).
Flintshire Council’s standards committee met to receive an update on the complaints which relate to members of the authority, but also members of the county’s town and community councils.
As previously reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, one such complaint was made by a member of the public that a Flintshire County Councillor, not named in the report, allegedly called the First Minister ‘Fuhrer’ on Facebook.
While not endorsing the post which was swiftly removed, the ombudsman deemed it not in the public interest to investigate as there is leeway for councillors to be rude or offensive about opponents in exercising their free speech.
In providing an update to the committee with where complaints are up to with the ombudsman, Flintshire Council’s monitoring officer Gareth Owens said members are reminded that just because the code has a relatively low threshold when it comes to freedom of expression, councillors are not encouraged to abuse that.
He said: “The code is a very low safety net in terms of respect and members are entitled to be quite rude about their political opponents.
“The point is, it’s not that you can – it’s whether you should or shouldn’t.
“My suggestion is members shouldn’t exercise all the freedoms open to them simply because of what that does to the tenor of debate and relationships within the council.
“Clearly if everyone’s at each other’s throats all the time it makes it a very unpleasant place to work.
“We’ve seen that in some town and community councils where the level of debate has got so vicious, particularly the reporting on social media afterwards.
“It has consequences in real life where people are approached on the street and berated because of something it has been reported that they have said – whether that’s been accurately reported or not is a different issue. It has consequences.”
The standards committee has had discussions with group leaders and there have been requests for social media training.
Mr Owens added: “We’re putting together a members’ training programme for this year.
“It won’t be about social media specifically it will be about respect in communications to others whether that be face-to-face, within the chamber or whether it be using any media, social media or printed media outside the chamber because the point is the same whether you’re talking about somebody or writing about them.”
The committee is also to make contact with Higher Kinnerton Community Council with concerns about the alleged conduct of one of its councillors at the start of its May meeting.
It comes after standards committee member Cllr Ian Papworth attended the virtual meeting in May as an independent observer, and reported concerns about how the clerk was spoken to by the member of the council who was having difficulty accessing the meeting.
The chair and clerk of the council are to be contacted, and the committee will write to the councillor concerned too.
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.