Posted: Sun 28th May 2023

Some councillors should “look in the mirror” as “bad behaviour” in meetings gets called out by Audit Committee for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Sunday, May 28th, 2023

Behaviour of some councillors is negatively impacting the council’s reputation, something that has been contrasted with the recent ‘very good publicity worldwide’ of the wider area.

The Governance and Audit Committee were looking at the latest Annual Governance Statement, when topics were raised about behaviour of councillors at recent meetings (perhaps No clarity on new Mayor as Guildhall witnesses terrible debate between councillors, or the LDP meeting to name but a few).

David Stewart, Independent Lay Member on the committee, noted the following in the report and queried if it was a new addition – and was told it was not, however there was ‘work to achieved’.

Mr Stewart said, “I just wondered if it had taken account of lets say, recent reported happenings at the Council, the way council meetings have been reported in the press and so on. I just wonder if that’s partly informing this. I just think that as a committee, we need to emphasise that corporate governance is not just about compliance with codes and protocols and so on. It is about that, but it’s also about the way that people, employees, councillors, lay members behave act and the way we speak.

“If it has been in previous years, then perhaps it is something that needs addressing a bit more in a stronger manner, on cultures, values, behaviours, and ways of working in meetings.”

Chair of the committee Jerry O’Keeffe echoed the comments, pointing to training for councillors after the recent Local Development Plan meeting, “Prior to that there was a training session for members around these particular themes, then we had the issues around the local development plans, but then the actual activities thereafter don’t bear out any sort of positive implications for that training.

“I would echo those concerns. If I was to reflect on the behaviour in the chamber over the last month or two, it could quite easily be described as an emerging pattern.

“I think the corresponding action plan should be a bit more robust. I suppose ultimately the word sanction would need to be in there. I’ve got no idea what that might look like, but I think that a more robust take on those those behaviours is probably quite, quite necessary.”

Cllr Dana Davies commented on the point, “I do we need to identify bullying and intimidation. My concern is some may have witnessdc that in areas of public meetings. We want to show that it is not widespread across the across the organisation and that it is not condoned, because we’re seeing a lot in the public domain now about other organisations that have had serious issues in that area. We need to flag it, so that we can ensure it’s not condoned, and that it isn’t developing into a culture.

Later she added, “At what point do we enforce the internal protocols to encourage good behaviour as opposed to bad behaviour not being addressed? It is the reputation of the whole council here, isn’t it? And we’ve all got a responsibility as 56 councillors, we all sign our declaration to office to say we’re going to comply with the constitution and uphold the reputation of the council. But, what happens when you don’t? That is the assurance that I’m really looking for. If that isn’t addressed, then it becomes a culture issue in the authority.

Lay member Trevor Coxon gave his view, “I have witnessed a few of these displays of, of poor behaviour. Let’s be honest, by some members, at some of your recent meetings. Behaviours are very difficult to deal with because you can have lots of protocols and codes, but you are not subject to a contract of employment, and so can’t be disciplined.

“You can be if the Ombudsman takes the view that there is a breach of the code. But really, you want to be dealing with behaviours that are sub that level.

“I hate to say this, but doesn’t this come back to the members themselves? How are the group leaders engaging on improving the culture within their groups? That may be something that needs to be looked at?

“I’m heartened that this is identified as a significant issue. But, I do have some concerns about whether or not there is the will, at the elected member level, to do something about it.”

Mr Coxon detailed some lack of attendance by councillors at mandatory and required training, pointing out that membership of some committees were effectively in the gift of senior councillors, adding, “One thing that could be brought in, if the will was there, was that group leaders would not recommend them members to sit on committees until such time as they had taken those mandatory training courses that are that are being provided.

“Statutory officers can only go so far, the members have to take a degree of control over over managing this.

“The level of of behaviour that is very often sub the level which would activate serious involvement from the Ombudsman, which to the public looks very poor when you’re watching it on the webcasts. I think we ought to remember that Wrexham is undergoing a period at the moment of very good publicity, worldwide, quite frankly, with what’s going on in the football club, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t bode well when behaviour of the the local authority are not reflected in that way.

“I’m not quite sure how that can be resolved but I do hope that behind behind the scenes the group leaders are starting to think ‘well hang on a minute, some of the level of control of this type of behaviour has to be our responsibility’, and not just always somebody else’s.”

Cllr Dana Davies, a group leader for Labour herself, said, “Trevor makes the crucial point here. The only option at the moment now is Ombudsman, because those internal protocols, those member, officer protocol, as well as group leader protocols. So if there’s any issues with behaviours within the group, the two group leaders meet. Those protocols are failing, because certain group leaders are refusing to engage in those protocols.”

Donald Sturgeon said, “The meeting which we’re referring to, I would suggest was catastrophic reputational damage in terms of the press, the social media, and as a result of the consequences of that behaviours. We’ve ended up with an outcome which was probably the worst possible outcome for the residents of Wrexham – the local development plan ends up going down to Central Welsh Government.

Referring to officer answers earlier in the meeting he added, “The fact that it’s implied that nobody’s been censured for their behaviour or conduct? Nobody. In that case, has anybody referred the behaviours to the Ombudsman? I’m very happy to do that, personally, if required. I was absolutely disgusted in what I saw, and what I’ve heard that for that particular meeting.

“The second point, what is the point of having mandatory training if it is not actually mandated, and there is some censure for not carrying out the mandated training within a specified timeline?”

He added, “Those people that are elected are supposed to be representing, they have the onus of responsibility to the people that elected them to do these sorts of things and mandate mandated training, and also recognition of appropriate behaviours, ethical conduct, and respecting their colleagues whatever their political sphere is, is entirely appropriate.

Cllr Paul Roberts said he believed Group Leaders met regularly – to a shake of the head from Cllr Dana Davies – and he would have expected them to resolve issues behind the scenes, adding “Each individual member, the 56 councillors, has got to look at themselves and how they present themselves in the meeting. Basically, look in the mirror and think, ‘was I correct doing that?’ and how, how does it reflect on the the council as a whole? ”

Trevor Coxon summarised his position, ” I’m here to represent the the public out there. I think we’ve heard enough to know that many of us have seen behaviours recently that I don’t think is conducive to Wrexham County Borough Council, which has got a good reputation overall. So I just think we need to feedback and say we think there is another element that needs to be involved at member level, and there needs to be a degree of responsibility taken for that culture going forward”.

Others wanted firmer action, Cllr Davies pointing at protocols being ignored, “If other group leaders don’t want to engage in that protocol, or refuse to engage in that protocol, that’s the issue that we’ve got so you’re stuck. However much our officers are trying to encourage compliance to those protocols, its not happening. It is reflected in the behaviour that everybody’s seeing now when we’re in a public meeting.

“Something needs to give, and it can’t be about personalities and all that rubbish. As Don pointed out, it’s not about politics it is about being professional and delivering for the people of Wrexham”

The Legal Officer told the committee they were reporting several matters to the forthcoming Standards Committee next month, and had taken on board the issues raised and would ‘ensure they are considered as well’.

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