Posted: Fri 28th Jul 2023

Council leaks and councillor behaviour back under spotlight for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jul 28th, 2023

Concern has been expressed about the behaviour of Wrexham councillors during meetings in the council chamber.

The authority’s governance and audit committee has raised the standard of behaviour at the Guildhall during debates as something it feels needs addressing.

Earlier this year there were heated exchanges during meetings about the selection of the next mayor and the Local Development Plan, and there has also been criticism about comments traded between councillors at executive board meetings.
Chief executive Ian Bancroft and council leader Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) will attend a future meeting of the governance and audit committee.

Lay member Trevor Coxon outlined why the committee felt this was necessary, given the higher profile Wrexham now has and the spotlight on the council.

He said: “With the county borough getting such a high profile for other reasons outside the council with the football club etc, it seemed sad that some of the behaviours we were seeing now as members of the public during meetings fell below what we felt was the standard you expect of elected members.”

Mr Coxon added that the behaviour concerned was not specific to groups or individuals but “general drifting into poor behaviour”, and the committee wanted assurances it was being addressed.

Vice-chair, Ruabon Cllr Dana Davies, also leader of the opposition Labour group, assured lay members that group leaders had begun meeting to start ironing out some of the problems.

Cllr Pritchard, who had also attended this month’s meeting, asked the committee to widen the scope to look at councillor behaviour on social media too.
“It isn’t just the behaviour in meetings it’s the overall behaviour as an elected member wherever he or she is”, he said.
“If we’re going to have a conversation about members’ behaviour I think you have to broaden it to outside this chamber too. I think social media at times is out of control. I think it needs to be managed better.
“I think elected members on social media need to be mindful of what’s said and the effects of their comments. I keep off it for obvious reasons but there’s a bigger picture here and I think at times social media is toxic and it’s a disgrace what is said out there.”

Chairing the meeting, lay member Jerry O’Keeffe agreed about the nastier side of social media but said a distinction had to be made on what happens on social media, and what appears or is reported and reflected in the news media.

Brymbo Cllr Paul Rogers (Con) said he felt there was an issue around “leaks coming from this authority”.

He added: “Whether it’s members, or groups, but quite often confidential information does get into the public domain and I think it’s something we need to look at from a governance perspective and make sure that these issues are tightened up on.”

A little earlier in the meeting legal monitor Linda Roberts warned the discussion was straying into the remit of the separate Standards Committee, but Mr Coxon said: “The behaviours that I saw was from the council’s own official webcasts. That’s where I saw the things that caused me concern.

“We are a governance and audit committee. We need to question and we need to receive assurances that things are going to be done that deal with it.
“I’m not saying it all falls at the leaders’ door.”

Bangor-on-Dee Cllr Ian Robert Williams (Con) pointed to a recent ombudsman’s report that noted while political opponents could make remarks people consider to be rude or offensive, free speech would not be inhibited.

Cllr Williams said: “The ombudsman reported that we needed to be less sensitive in some cases and people are making too much of ‘wokery’”.
He added that when the Conservative group on Wrexham Council complained about being called “Tory scum”, they were told by the ombudsman there was no case to answer.

The committee will agree another date with Cllr Pritchard and Bancroft to speak at a future meeting.

In the meantime, Cllr Pritchard said his “door is always open” to anyone from group leaders to members of the public who wished to speak to him.

By Rory Sheehan – BBC Local Democracy Reporter

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