Independent councillor Georgina Hill accused the authority’s ruling party of “disgusting” machinations against her on Wednesday afternoon, something that has been denied by the Conservative administration.
Immediately after her claims, which came during a discussion of the damning Max Caller into review of the council’s governance failures, the meeting was brought to an abrupt halt because of a heckler.
The council chamber at County Hall was evacuated for more than half an hour as police were called to remove a man who was angrily shouting from the public gallery and refused to leave.
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The Caller report warned of a “climate of fear and intimidation” at the council and said that the effectiveness of its leadership had “deteriorated significantly” over recent years, after a breakdown in relations between politicians and senior officers.
Councillors have agreed to adopt the recommendations of the report, which includes a restructure of senior management “as soon as practically possible”, and on Wednesday approved an updated plan of action – including the appointment of a new external advisory board.
But Coun Hill, who represents Berwick East, told the chamber that she worried that the council was “not going far enough” and then alleged that several Conservatives had told her of a plot to silence her.
She said: “I see some grounds for optimism and improvement in practice and so on, but I don’t see the fundamental reset and change in culture. One of the things Max Caller picked up on was the importance of working together and with opposition groups. As the leader quoted… being able to speak truth to power is a really important element of democracy and you should welcome criticism and scrutiny.
“I am someone, as everybody knows, who does scrutinise and challenge in a very independent and objective way. I have upset Labour administrations, Liberal Democrat administrations, Conservative administrations, and I think that proves the independence, being in that position.
“As such, I was extremely disappointed to have several members of the Conservative group approach me over the last two days to say, ‘they are plotting to silence you at the meeting and get you thrown out’. I think that plot has been evident in the last two meetings.”
Coun Hill said such a plot was “disgusting” and “not encouraging scrutiny” of the council, but its leader Glen Sanderson denied that there was any conspiracy.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There is no plot at all. What we want is to make sure that every member of the council can come to meetings and express their views on behalf of residents, challenge the leadership, and play a part in strategic and everyday thinking.
“But we do have to draw a line and call out bad behaviour and any member that might not fulfil their role needs to expect that bad behaviour will be called out. That is not addressed to Coun Hill specifically and I am not aware of any plot.
“But I do have to reiterate that we have to behave ourselves in meetings and act with respect for each other. Anyone that does that will play a big part in how the council runs.”