SOUTH Tyneside Council’s two most senior councillors broke the rules by using Town Hall staff to send out e-mails to Labour Party members during last year’s Local Election campaign, a committee has found.
E-mails, carrying the official South Tyneside Labour Group logo and sent from the accounts of local authority officials, were signed by council leader Iain Malcolm and his deputy Alan Kerr.
That led to Independent councillor George Elsom, the leader of the opposition on the council, making a formal complaint to the authority’s chief executive Martin Swales – who is also the council’s returning officer.
Now the authority’s Standards Committee, made up predominantly of Labour councillors and chaired by retired chemist Bill Darling, has judged that the two councillors did breach code of conduct rules.
They arranged for four e-mails, regarding the party’s 2014 election campaign, to be sent to Labour members and supporters by staff in the council’s Members Services Team.
But the committee judged that no further action against the two councillors was necessary as they “accepted in their response to the complaint that they should have taken responsibility for sending out the communications themselves.”
It was also judged that the cost to the council of sending the e-mails was “minimal” and that “action has already been taken by the Labour Group to adopt the use of personal email.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “The committee found that the members’ code of conduct had been breached but that no further action was necessary.”
Coun Elsom has condemned the decision to take no further action.
The councillor for Cleadon Park said: “The committee, that had a majority of Labour councillors sitting on it, decided that it did not merit any punishment.
“If it had been the opposition I suggest there would have been some punishment, but this leader of the council does exactly what he wishes and uses council staff and equipment for his own ends.”
Coun Linda Hemmer, who represents UKIP in Fellgate and Hedworth, said: “What kind of message does this send out to the public? That you can abuse the system and not face any repercussions for doing so. How do we expect the public to put their faith in the democratic process?”
The local Labour party enjoyed a very successful night at the polls on May 22 last year, winning 17 of the 18 ward seats contested to maintain a firm grip on political control in the borough.
Couns Malcolm and Kerr, neither of whom attended the hearing, declined to comment.