£110,000 spent on disciplinary investigations

News story
News story

STANDARDS probes into misbehaving councillors cost cash-strapped Wigan Council more than £110k last year, according to a new shock report.

The figure - which is a combined total for 17 investigations into code of conduct breaches - is the latest in a series of annual five or six-figure sums the local authority has had to fork out for bad behaviour.

In the report, monitoring officer Linda Fisher holds “a few members who do not understand their obligation to the public at large” as responsible.

Although the details - included in the annual report of the standards committee - have emerged in the same week that council leader Lord Smith aimed a personal insult at an opposition member during a chamber meeting.

The chairman of the standards committee, Coun Charles Rigby, states 2014/15 “had been another busy year”.

He added: “It would have been an easier option to simply let poor behaviour slide but that would have been a disservice to the public and hard working staff at the council.”

Council bosses have regularly blamed a small group of opposition councillors for causing the standards probes and wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government last year calling for more powers to sanction them.

But the opposition members have accused the council of initiating a witch-hunt against them.

Included in the number of standards hearings last year were the guilty verdicts for varying conduct breaches by Couns Bob Brierley, Gareth Fairhurst and Robert Bleakley.

The year also saw the imprisonment of former Labour councillor Emma McGurrin for fraud relating to expense claims.

The previous year saw 27 complaints investigated at a cost of £78k compared with 17 the year before at a cost of £20k.

The annual report states: “A number of high profile cases and the very public behaviour of certain members in public meetings has ensured the issues of standards has received significant publicity both locally and nationally.”

And of the sanctions available to the council to punish misbehaving members, “the most effective has been to removal of the ability to support Brighter Borough funding” which allows councillors to financially back community projects.

Coun Rigby added in his chairman’s remarks: “Recent events across the country with the behaviour of councils, such as Rotherham and Oxford, have brought into question the scrutiny and challenges (councils face).

“Here at Wigan, ensuring the council listens to concerns, challenges poor behaviour and provides effective transparency will continue to be championed by this committee.”

At a recent chamber meeting, council leader Lord Smith told Coun Brierley he would not want him as a representative of Wigan “even if he promised to wear his best tracksuit bottoms.”