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Council takes no action against councillor accused of using ‘derogatory’ and ‘demeaning’ language

PUBLISHED: 11:38 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:38 01 October 2020

Timothy Birt, Green Party councillor for Saham Toney with Breckland Council. Pic: Green Party.

Timothy Birt, Green Party councillor for Saham Toney with Breckland Council. Pic: Green Party.

Green Party

A Norfolk council has taken no action over complaints against a councillor for using “demeaning” and “derogatory” language.

Cllr Lynda Turner, Breckland Council's chairman 2019/20. Picture: KEITH MINDHAMCllr Lynda Turner, Breckland Council's chairman 2019/20. Picture: KEITH MINDHAM

Breckland Green Party councillor Timothy Birt criticised the council for a “mediocre” Covid-19 response and showing “sycophantic self-congratulation” at a cabinet meeting in June.

Following the meeting, council chairman Lynda Turner made a formal complaint about Mr Birt.

The complaint, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), stated: “[His] attitude and statements were unwarranted, and demeaning.

“The use of words such as ‘mediocre’ and ‘sycophantic’ are demoralising and demeaning.”

Hilary Bushell, Conservative Breckland councillor. Photo: Terry BurrellHilary Bushell, Conservative Breckland councillor. Photo: Terry Burrell

Ms Turner said he “continues to break protocol” by not using the right IT equipment or corporate Zoom background and “not being appropriately dressed”.

READ MORE: Councillor faced formal complaint over ‘not being appropriately dressed’ on Zoom call

Conservative councillor Hilary Bushell also made a formal complaint, which stated: “[His] attitude and comments were derogatory.... totally out of order... showing a total lack of thought.”

Breckland monitoring officer Maxine O’Mahony found there had been no breach of the code of conduct said no further action would be taken on the complaints.

Mr Birt said both complaints were “spurious” and “part of a concerted, politically motivated, attempt to silence my views - which would be an abuse of the standards system”.

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He called for an urgent review of the standards process at a full council meeting this month.

Speaking after the meeting, he added: “We shouldn’t be in a position where the system can be exploited for leverage purposes.

“I stand by those comments. The council has been mediocre - there’s nothing exceptional about it. We didn’t have a plan - so I think my comments are valid and I should be allowed to say that.”

READ MORE: ‘Self-congratulatory and sycophantic’ - council’s virus response criticised

The Green Party councillor for Saham Toney said he had complained to the monitoring officer and the outgoing chief executive but had not yet received a response

A council spokesman said: “While we respect individual councillors’ rights to hold an opinion, the council strongly refutes any suggestion that its standards or complaints processes have been politically manipulated.

“We have an independent person who has no connection with the council involved with every complaint, while council members are only involved in the process if a detailed investigation led by the monitoring officer or deputy concludes there may be a breach of the code of conduct.

“If this is the case, a formal hearings panel of councillors is established, made up of a small number of members from the governance and audit committee, which is a politically balanced group.

“The council remains confident that its complaints and standards processes remain appropriate, independent and effective. As such, there isn’t a case to review these at this time.

“However, the Local Government Association is currently in the process of developing a model code of conduct for all councils in the country and so we will consider in due course whether any changes to our local standards arrangements are necessary to reflect the emerging code of conduct.”

Ms Turner and Ms Bushell both declined to comment further.

READ MORE: Councillor faced formal complaint over ‘not being appropriately dressed’ on Zoom call


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