Watchdog panel accused of bias

Coun Robert Bleakley
Coun Robert Bleakley

AN UNDER-fire opposition councillor has accused Wigan Council’s standards committee of showing pro-Labour bias.

Coun Robert Bleakley is demanding answers after claiming an independent adviser employed by the council has posted “clear anti-Tory and anti-Lib Dem views” on social media.

The Tyldesley independent - who has been the subject of several disciplinary issues in recent years - argues the posts make the person unsuitable for the role.

An independent person sits in with the standards committee during conduct hearings and can offer advice to the panel but is expected to be politically neutral.

Coun Bleakley, a former Lib Dem, has written to both Wigan Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government to raise his concerns. He said: “The posts clearly demonstrate a left-wing, socialist and Labour Party political bias. A person is perfectly entitled to hold his own views. However I do not believe that, in consideration of his views and bedfellows, he should not have been appointed as an independent person on the committee.”

The Evening Post has viewed the social media posts but is choosing not to reveal the identity of the member in question as he was not available for comment.

Wigan Council’s monitoring officer, Linda Fisher, who deals with disciplinary issues, would not confirm if any action would be taken or if the posts were being investigated. A statement said: “We do not comment on individual complaints.”

Council bosses have become increasingly exasperated by the behaviour of opposition members in recent years with a group subject to several standards committee hearings. But the under-fire councillors have accused the council of conducting a “witch-hunt” against them and have criticised the Labour Party dominated standards committee.

Due to the political make-up of Wigan’s council chamber, all but one member of the committee is a Labour councillor.

And for a series of hearings last year, the one non-Labour member, Coun Jim Ellis, was removed from the committee due to allegations of misconduct which are yet to be proved. This meant Coun Bob Brierley, an independent member for Hindley Green, faced a number of hearings with an all-Labour panel.

In his letter to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark MP, Coun Bleakley said: “Other opposition councillors and myself are victims of this vicious politically motivated treatment and the unrelenting witch hunts against us. I request that you launch an urgent investigation into the matters that I have brought to your attention.”