Calls for end to toxicity after Northumberland councillor reduced to tears during meeting

The behaviour of councillors ‘needs to change’ before Northumberland County Council can move forward and cross-party working can take place.

By James Robinson
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 9:04 am

That’s the word from the opposition Labour group following a meeting last week which saw one councillor reduced to tears during a discussion on bullying.

Conservative councillor Christine Dunbar was visibly upset as colleague Mark Swinburn spoke about bullying at the council during an extraordinary meeting last Wednesday.

It comes after the Max Caller review of governance at the council identified a lack of trust and poor behaviour among councillors due to political issues and disputes, citing a “winner takes all” mentality from all political parties and pointing to a lack of cross-party working. Thirty conduct complaints had been made against councillors, almost all from members and council officers.

Northumberland County Council headquarters.

There have also been issues at the council with some unidentified members rumoured to be behind anonymous blogs criticising fellow councillors. The problem led to deputy leader Richard Wearmouth proposing an amendment to the council’s code of conduct to make councillors disclose whether they edit any Facebook or other social media pages they edit to their register of interests.

But Northumberland Labour said the aftermath of the Caller report had been focused on the conduct of senior officers, and that more needed to be done to change the behaviour of elected members.

A spokesman for the party said: “All our members got into local politics to serve communities, not battle in school ground bullying nor accept intimidation as the norm. Residents of Northumberland deserve better than this and we have seen where this has led us.

“While officers grab the headlines and release after release points to officers, critical parts of the report are going unreported, unnoticed and remain to be dealt with.

“We reached a farcical position where members advocated the end of anonymous blogs which had members passionately speak about the impact on them and their families and their mental health. Later that day some members were ‘outed’ as authors and admins of one of the most vicious sites and this cannot go on.”

The party added that all members were “up for the change needed” but urged caution at the suggestion that “officers alone and a new top team” would solve all the problems, without politicians recognising ‘their part in the change needed.’

Responding to the Labour Party’s comments, a Northumberland Conservative spokesman said: “We are committed to working together with all members to provide a fantastic service for our residents, businesses and visitors as we continue to make Northumberland a wonderful place to live work or visit.

“We want to create a modern professional and pleasant atmosphere for members, staff and others. If anyone has concerns there is a clear and robust process in place to deal with these.

“We believe that there should be a zero tolerance to bad behaviour and feel everyone will sign up to this. Any breaches both verbal or on social media or print will be called out.”