£18k to investigate five complaints against Peterborough councillors

Five investigations into Peterborough councillors has cost the city council £18,000.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 5:01 am

External investigations which were launched following complaints have set taxpayers back £17,859, as well as VAT and expenses.

These led to further action being recommended on three occasions.

Council leader Cllr John Holdich hit out at the behaviour of some councillors and called for the Government to bring in tougher sanctions for elected representatives.

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Peterborough Town Hall

He said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt the system doesn’t work effectively. If you’re found guilty there are very few sanctions you can implement.

“One of the things in my lifetime in the council which I’ve regretted is I’ve not been able to modify people’s behaviour. It’s ridiculous - it’s tit-for-tat and really shouldn’t happen between grown-ups.

“I regret the £18,000 which is money we could spend on services if people just respected one another, but it’s the only option we’ve got.

“I find it incomprehensible they really can’t behave themselves. I’ve made representations to the Government to improve the behaviour of people in public life, and for that we need sanctions.

“The Government needs to come out with a set of standards for public life and if people don’t abide by them they can be suspended or can’t stand again. Someone needs to do something about it before it gets out of hand. It’s playground stuff.”

The three occasions where further action was recommended following an external investigation came on the back of complaints by one city councillor against another.

On one occasion there was a recommendation of an apology and training, on another just training was recommended, and on the third an “alternative resolution” is currently being considered.

The council’s policy is to not name councillors who have been the subject of a complaint until they are found to have breached its code of conduct.

Earlier this year it was revealed that an external report recommended that Labour and Co-operative member for Ravensthorpe Cllr Ed Murphy should be offered training on his use of social media after he made remarks against Conservative cabinet member for finance Cllr David Seaton which “amounted to online personal abuse”.

Moreover, Labour member for Gunthorpe Cllr Darren Fower was asked to apologise for saying a fellow councillor had shown “fascist tendencies”.

Efforts have been made to improve the behaviour of councillors after poor behaviour at Full Council meetings.

In 2018, the local authority created a Constitution and Ethics Committee which has the power to sanction councillors following an investigation.

Since then there have been numerous complaints made against elected members, often relating to comments they have made on social media, although few have led to an external investigation.

In March 2019, councillors adopted a new social media code which warns them not to use “inappropriate or ill-considered, offensive, illegal or discriminatory remarks”.

The figures have been revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Peterborough Telegraph which also asked about complaints made against parish councillors.

In its response, the council said: “There have been a number of complaints made involving parish councillors, however, none of these have been referred for a formal investigation therefore there are no costs involved.”