MP demands answers from Wigan Council over employee suspension
A strongly-worded letter which at one point accuses the town hall of 'acting like Communist China' has been sent to the local authority.
James Grundy, the Conservative representative for Leigh in the House of Commons, wrote to town hall chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan after Leigh Library worker Maureen O’Bern was told she faces disciplinary action.
Mr Grundy accused the council of acting in a manner similar to leaders in Beijing after it was revealed Ms O’Bern faces an allegation of gross misconduct following a number of social media comments criticising the involvement of Chinese state-owned firm BCEGI in the redevelopment of The Galleries.
It is understood that Ms O’Bern had suggested the council had acted inconsistently in prominently commemorating the murder of George Floyd in the USA but then awarding BCEGI a role in the town centre transformation project as a sub-contractor.
Wigan Council has said it will be providing a full response to Mr Grundy’s letter in due course.
Ms O’Bern, who works as a customer service assistant at Leigh Library and has been employed by the local authority for more than three decades, told Wigan Today she believed it was “hypocritical” of the council to have BCEGI involved with The Galleries after making statements of solidarity with oppressed people.
Mr Grundy told Ms McKenzie-Folan in his letter that he was concerned about the precedent that could be set by the town hall with Ms O’Bern suspension and called for it to be lifted.
He also said her suspension from work had generated a great deal of comment, some of it concerned, on social media.
Mr Grundy said: “It is highly concerning that the council should act to curtail the right to free expression of their staff in this manner.
“My opinion is that the view expressed by Maureen is not controversial, and would be held by many, if not the majority of my constituents. It is one thing for the council to do business with Communist China, which the Labour administration of the council has the right to do, however much I might dislike it, given the Labour majority on the council.
“It is entirely another thing for the council to act like Communist China, and punish those who hold dissenting political views, especially when those views may be held by the vast majority of the public at large.”
Mr Grundy is asking the council if it supports defunding or abolishing the police and if it will condemn the treatment of the Uighurs and China’s record of human rights abuses.
He also asked the council to recognise “that staff have the right to dissent from council policy in their personal lives, especially on matters of widespread public interest”.
Wigan Council said it will be responding to Mr Grundy’s letter.
It said BCEGI is a subcontractor of its partner Cityheart on the renovation of The Galleries and that both companies are UK-based and have a track record of delivering similar projects.
The town hall also said local suppliers and sub-contractors will be used throughout the project and local people will be employed.
A council spokesperson added: “It would not be appropriate for the council to disclose or discuss employment matters, however, we can advise that this is a long-standing matter that is being investigated in line with our internal policies and procedures.”
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