Mayor of Berwick faces vote of no confidence

Mayor Brian Douglas at mayor-making.
Mayor Brian Douglas at mayor-making.

Mayor of Berwick, Brian Douglas, is facing a vote of no confidence amid allegations of improper conduct.

The motion is set to be put to members of Berwick Town Council at an extraordinary meeting in the town hall on Monday.

If agreed, a formal complaint is likely to be made to the monitoring officer of Northumberland County Council to decide if it should be investigated.

The meeting, expected to be held in private, has been called at the request of Coun Gregah Roughead and Coun Karin Graham.

The vote of no confidence is understood to relate to several incidents, including an alleged confrontation between Coun Douglas and town clerk Gareth Davies at a meeting in August in which the Mayor is accused of acting in a bullying or intimidatory manner.

The town council has indicated it will give no official statement before the meeting, while Coun Douglas said he has been advised not to comment.

A report by the town clerk to councillors outlining the situation states: 'Two town councillors have written to the Mayor requesting an extraordinary meeting of council. The purpose of the extraordinary meeting was to discuss a motion of no confidence in the Mayor, either as chairman of council or as a councillor.

'The Mayor initially responded to this merely by advising the town clerk that they had forwarded the correspondence to the monitoring officer of Northumberland County Council and to the chief executive of Northumberland Association of Local Councils. The purpose of this is unclear.

'Subsequently the Mayor has emailed the clerk to advise him that he would not convene an extraordinary meeting of council. This goes against the advice provided to the Mayor - they have no power to refuse to convene an extraordinary meeting if correctly requested.

'In the absence of a response from the Mayor to the request for an extraordinary meeting any two councillors are entitled to convene an extraordinary meeting of council.

'The town clerk also has a handwritten statement that elected members have no confidence in the Mayor, signed by a majority of members of council, and which was produced during the confidential portion of the meeting of 24th September 2018, from which the town clerk was absent.'

The clerk reminds members that any allegations that amount to a breach of the code of conduct should involve the making of a formal complaint to the monitoring officer of Northumberland County Council.

Mr Davies continues: 'Therefore our advice is that if the reasons for council deciding that it has no confidence in the Mayor amount to a breach of the Code of Conduct, or the reasonable suspicion that they amount to an allegation of a breach of the Code of Conduct, then a complaint about that behaviour must be made to the Monitoring Officer of Northumberland County Council who shall decide if the complaint should be investigated.'

He explains that while the idea of a motion of no confidence in the Mayor, or any other individual, is one which has a powerful grip on the popular imagination, in the context of parish councils it has never been either explained or given life in legislation.

'A motion of no confidence in the chairman of a parish council, therefore has only moral force; that is to say, members may wish the chairman to consider their position in the case of there being a decision that council has no confidence in its chair, but they cannot take any further action,' he states.

'Members should, therefore, take care not to represent a vote of no confidence in the Mayor as being a finding of a breach of the code of conduct, nor should they decide on the motion of no confidence as if they have made such a finding; rather, the wording of the motion should be taken only as meaning what it says, that council has no confidence in the Mayor as its chair in relation to their ability to carry out their duties.'