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News and Comment March 2021

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31 March (Part 2) - SM. It really may be Sado Masochism after all

As predicted there was no discussion of the nine outstanding complaints at last night’s code of Conduct Committee meeting so there is no advance on my speculation to report. On the other hand there was nothing to suggest I was wide of the mark, in fact one insider considered it to be pretty much spot on.

Bexley Council has compared itself with other boroughs on complaint numbers but the results were inconclusive except that Social Media (SM) complaints were on the rise. Few boroughs thought it worthwhile to respond and as some Councillors were keen to point out, the complaints procedures varied so much that comparisons were close to worthless. Bexley may be on the low side of average.

In what was probably a direct reference to my complaint dated 9th February (not reported here) the Monitoring Officer conceded that complaints against Councillors may have been lost because of the website error noted on 9th March. My first complaint gave no sign of a problem but the reminder a month later bounced. There is no reason to suppose that it was the Monitoring Officer who was at fault so it would not be fair to blame him for it especially as he has today rather belatedly acknowledged my complaint against two Councillors.

I should remind readers that my complaint was at the lowest end on the seriousness scale so I hope it will be accepted or rejected quickly. When it is I will probably let you know what it is about.

Councillor Danny Hackett (Independent. Thamesmead East) asked about politically motivated complaints to which he has been subject several times since going Independent two years ago. The question was a difficult one for the Monitoring Officer who cannot reasonably be political but his “safeguards” appeared to satisfy Councillor Hackett. Chairman Linda Bailey agreed that it was “a difficult one”.

The complaints against Councillor Hackett mostly came from the same source and he wondered whether the ‘vexatious’ rules but the Monitoring Officer said that procedure only applies to Freedom of Information requests.

Councillor Brian Bishop (Conservative, Barnehurst) was concerned about sticking to the rules on gifts. Up to £100 they need not be declared. Is it £100 per gift or per year etc? A number of devices to get around the limit were discussed. The best course “would be to flag that with myself” said the Monitoring Officer. Councillor Bishop, clearly wishing to avoid transgressing any rules, restated that if someone gave him £99 month after month he would not be breaking the code. The Monitoring Officers said he would look at the situation carefully.

Whilst the £100 gift limit will be retained in Bexley it is higher than in most authorities where £25 is more typical. There was no suggestion that Councillors present were intent on looking for loopholes although there may be a few - loopholes that is, not Councillors.

Prolific Twitterer Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) said the rules demanding Councillors treat people with respect when the organisations they front may deserve none created a dilemma. He received much sympathy from his colleagues but not a lot of advice. He used the siege of Batley Grammar School as an example. (If he condemns that the Conservatives may go up in my estimation but they dare not. Hence my terminal disenchantment with his party.)

Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) held similar views to John.

Chairman Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) admitted that she did not use Social Media which is probably a wise move but with the Monitoring Officer repeating the fact that SM complaints are on the up and up one wonders if that makes her the best choice for Chairman.

Councillor Davey came back with another example of unwittingly causing offence. Most people believe there are only two genders but others think there is a multitude inbetween. Like most people he doesn’t know what can be done about it. Maybe he should follow Councillor Bailey’ lead.

I have been close to doing that several times.


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