Town Hall chiefs adopt new bullying and harassment code to tackle complaints linked to councillors

Council bosses have introduced new rules to tackle complaints of bullying and harassment linked to councillors.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 17 May, 2019, 13:06

Speaking at South Tyneside Council’s annual meeting on Tuesday (May 14), leader Iain Malcolm introduced changes to the council constitution.

This included a new committee overseeing the hiring of senior officers and a range of job title changes.

Following a request from the authority’s Standards Committee, new guidelines will be introduced to define bullying and harassment.

According to the new policy, bullying is defined as: “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour (or) an abuse or misuse of power in a way that intends to undermine, humiliate, criticise unfairly or injure someone.”

While harassment includes: “Unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for an individual.”

According to council documents, bullying and/or harassment can take many forms and could relate to age, disability, gender reassignment, religion, race, belief or sexual orientation.

The changes will apply to statements made by councillors – either verbally, in written form or in electronic communications such as social media –  both directly to a person or indirectly to third parties.

And the test includes an intention to “unfairly influence opinions or behaviour towards the person concerned.”

Council leader, Iain Malcolm, said the changes aim to “assist the (standards) committee when considering complaints of misconduct.”

And the definition – which will become part of councillors code of conduct – follows a similar definition used by Newcastle City Council.

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According to a council report, this was identified as an “example of good practice by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in their recent report on ethical standards in Local Government.”

Another major change to the constitution also includes reduced powers for council officers around contracts and land sales.

While council officers could spend up to £500,000 under ‘delegated powers’, this sum has now been reduced to a maximum of £250,000.

As a result, all future contracts, land sales and purchases by the council over this amount will need the green light from cabinet before going ahead.

While councillors nodded through the new constitution, newly-elected Green Party councillor, David Francis, criticised delays in the report being made available to members.

“It’s my understanding that this report came to all councillors shortly after 6pm last night,” he said.

“Although there’s a summary of what the contents of the report are, with the best will in the world, the people of the borough could be forgiven for thinking that allowing less than 24 hours to read, absorb and come to an informed opinion on 32 pages of report plus appendices before considering this tonight, is unlikely to result in the kind of informed decision making that local people should expect and deserve.”

Council leader, Iain Malcolm, responding, said: “The report was submitted and meets the legal requirements.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service