Calls for tougher powers to punish rogue councillors

News story
News story

EXASPERATED Wigan town hall chiefs today call on the Government to boost powers to punish rogue councillors.

In a hard-hitting letter addressed to minister Eric Pickles, the local authority reveals that disciplinary standards issues have cost taxpayers more than £100,000 in the last year alone.

And leaders urge him to re-instate the “right of recall”: the ability to penalise a misbehaving elected member by declaring a re-election for his or her seat mid-term.

Town hall bosses have been frustrated at not being able to administer little more than tellings-off to councillors for sometimes serious breaches of conduct.

Signed by ruling Labour group leader Lord Smith and opposition counterpart Coun Gary Wilkes of Wigan Independent Network, the letter states:

The “small number” of misbehaving councillors wear their complaints as “a badge of honour in the same way that gang culture used ASBOs”

Often the responses to their behaviour shows “deliberate efforts to get around the code of conduct”

The action of these councillors has led to a decline in trust and confidence by the public ... in the failure of the council to bring those account.

The letter is also signed by Conservative Lowton ward councillor James Grundy, who proposed a motion at the last full chamber meeting calling for the council to take action.

This motion came weeks after the revelations regarding Coun Robert Bleakley who was found to have used council equipment to access pornographic material and send sexist and derogatory messages. He has ignored calls to resign and at present the council has no means of getting him removed from office or at least make him re-stand for his seat before the next time it must by law be contested in 2016.

Coun Grundy said: “This is not just a response to Coun Bleakley, we’re not asking Mr Pickles to sack him.

“This is about bringing a mechanism in place for the public to say when they’ve had enough.

“It would have to be when there is evidence of serious wrongdoing, for example, if the equivalent behaviour would result in a council officer being sacked.”

Although not named, the letter makes reference to the conduct of Coun Bleakley along with colleagues Coun Bob Brierley, Coun Gareth Fairhurst and former councillor Emma McGurrin.

It adds: “We have support from our local MPs for a right of recall by the public and very strong support from the residents who have contacted us across all political parties appalled at these actions.

“We are a great council with a good and improving reputation in the eyes of local people.

“A small number of councillors have constantly refused to accept any responsibility for their actions and instead find reasons to blame others or find excuses as to why they are above having to abide by the repercussions of their poor behaviour.

“The call for right of recall would give the power back to the electorate and enable them to react at the time of the offence and call their councillor to account to explain their actions.”