The “intimidating” atmosphere at some Lancashire County Council meetings is “stifling debate”, it has been claimed in a BBC report.
More than half of the 14 complaints made last year related to standards of behaviour by councillors including threatening or bullying language. “There is a lot of intimidation, name-calling and chanting, it’s appalling” said county councillor Julia Berry.
A council spokesman said it was vital that all members feel able “to make their voice heard”. Four of the complaints came from county councillors, with the remainder made by members of the public and, in one case, a member of staff, the Local Democracy Reporter Service reported.
Cllr Berry, who represents Chorley South, said the “highly charged environment” at County Hall in Preston was stifling debate. “I want the freedom to be able to speak without having to worry” said the Labour opposition member. “Often, I’ll sit there silent because of the cavalier behaviour. When you’re speaking, people will sometimes physically turn around to front you up. Mostly, it’s the men, they seem to think it’s some sort of theatrical event”. Or kintergarten!
Code of conduct
Conservative council leader Geoff Driver accepted the incidents described by Cllr Berry “shouldn’t happen”. “It’s vital that members treat one another with respect, but it’s almost inevitable that with the sensitivity of some of the issues discussed and the strength of feeling some people have, they sometimes go over the top” he said.
In a statement, Laura Sales, Lancashire County Council’s director of corporate services, said “It is important that the council chamber is a place of debate where all members feel able to make their voice heard.The Code of Conduct for Elected Members sets out standards of behaviour with which elected members are expected to abide and we will consider any further support members require as a result of the issues raised by Councillor Berry”.
Local Democracy Reporters cover top-tier local authorities and other public service organisations. The journalists are funded by the BBC as part of its latest Charter commitment but employed by regional news organisations.
At present 149 Local Democracy Reporters have been allocated to news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales. These organisations range from a radio station to online media companies and established regional newspaper groups.