Councillor believes revised code of conduct could prevent members working in best interests of residents

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

5th Aug 2022 | Local News

Cheshire East Council's HQ, Westfields.
Cheshire East Council's HQ, Westfields.

Cheshire East could prevent councillors from working in the best interests of residents if it passes the new revised members code of conduct as it stands, a councillor believes.

Cllr David Marren (Shavington, Ind) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the rule of 'not bringing the council into disrepute' could be interpreted as preventing councillors from criticising the council because that criticism may damage the council's reputation.

"The council sometimes needs to be publicly criticised and criticised in the press, and my experience is that it is necessary to do that before it will do the right thing," he said.

"I've been pictured in the press with grass up to my neck on council-owned land that the council had denied owning, despite being told by me that it did.

Cllr David Marren

"I've been quoted criticising the council for repeated Traveller incursions on an open space that they had years to resolve but didn't.

"Criticising the council publicly appears to be a code of conduct breach because that criticism could damage the council's reputation. That is not right and not acceptable and should not be accepted by any councillor who says they put residents first."

Cllr Marren said he has contacted the LDRS about his concerns because he had been 'cut off' during his speech at the audit and governance committee meeting last week because of time constraints.

He listed a number of other concerns about the code and the complaints process, which is due to be considered by full council at a future meeting.

One is that councillors are gagged from talking about any complaints made against them, which, he believes, 'restricts their ability to gather supporting evidence'.

The Shavington councillor said the code's insistence on the 'accused' having to stay silent and keep things confidential is coercive and would help any bullies who might manipulate it by making exaggerated complaints.

"Cheshire East Council has been troubled by accusations of bullying in the past so it is really important to get this replacement code of conduct right," said Cllr Marren.

"Code of conduct investigations should be as open and fair and under as much public gaze as any investigation under the judicial system.

"Those under investigation should be free to speak about the investigation. The hearing panel should be able to quiz witnesses, there should be an appeal option and, where officers complain about councillors, it shouldn't be colleague officers who investigate but someone very clearly independent.

"And, most of all, councillors should not be afraid to criticise the council – but that will happen if councillors can be subject to a complaint that they have brought the council into disrepute by their public criticism."

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