Leaked WhatsApp messages ‘show council officer broke impartiality rules’
A former local politician who switched to being a council officer in controversial circumstances is under investigation for allegedly participating in Labour Party WhatsApp groups that insult and ridicule opposition councillors.
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.
We have now established that a number of opposition councillors have told chief executive Mark Shephard that they do not want to work or engage with Mr Baldwin after becoming aware of his participation in a number of What’sApp groups linked to Bridgend Labour Party where disparaging comments are 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 show 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 suggests 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 offers Labour councillors advice on how to get off if they are the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman about their conduct. Mr Baldwin writes: “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. As this matter is under investigation we cannot comment further at this time, pending the outcome of any investigations.”
A council spokesman said: “A complaint has been received and we are currently looking into the matter.”
We invited Mr Baldwin to comment but he did not respond to our message.
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.