SORT out your behaviour or consider stepping down – that is the challenge to councillors following a solicitor’s probe into their conduct.
An investigation was ordered into whether a ‘bullying culture’ existed in Portsmouth City Council on the back of complaints about the aggressive and intimidating behaviour of members.
Councillors who have little or no regard for the code of conduct, or indeed common civility and good manners, must change their behaviourSolicitor Richard Lingard
The findings of the dossier, released publicly today, reveals councillors can be ‘childish’ and senior bosses have found it ‘impossible’ to tackle poor behaviour.
Contributors to the report – produced by Guildford lawyer Richard Lingard – say the council is ‘devoid of value’ and there is a ‘clique of quite exceptional people’ who are aggressive and cause people to feel victimised.
While Mr Lingard concludes there is no evidence to suggest a culture of bullying exists – he believes a ‘number of councillors’ need to work on their conduct or think about giving up their post.
He says: ‘Councillors who have little or no regard for the code of conduct, or indeed common civility and good manners, must change their behaviour.
‘Some may find this difficult given the strength of some of the personalities involved, but the issue must be addressed.
‘Inappropriate language and behaviour is simply not acceptable.’
He adds: ‘Those who either cannot or will not change should ask themselves whether they are suited to the role of councillor.’
Mr Lingard’s report also reveals:
n Councillors using social media such as Facebook and Twitter ‘in an irresponsible and childish manner’.
n Complaints made about the actions of Lib Dem councillors Leo Madden and Lee Hunt and Labour group leader Cllr John Ferrett.
n Sources saying former councillor Mike Hancock still ‘casts a shadow’ over the council – and his ‘aggressive’ demeanour ‘infected’ the way Lib Dems treated officers when they were in power.Despite this, Mr Lingard says no-one came forward to say they had been bullied or mistreated by the MP for Portsmouth South.
n Members of staff saying they feel upset and bullied at work, not necessarily by councillors
n Sources saying everyone with a leadership role is ‘tainted’ and top officers did not stand up for staff when they were screamed and shouted at, denigrated and on one occasion, ‘reduced to tears’
But councillors criticised in the 47-page report, commissioned by the Tory administration last summer, have dismissed the complaints against them and say they are ‘politically motivated’.
Cllr Hunt was reported by Hilsea Lido Pool for People Trust, Patey Day Centre campaigner Ellie Savidge and Mark Lewis, of The Lodge Arts Centre, at Victoria Park, over his attitude.
Cllr Hunt said: ‘Ellie is a big Labour fan, Mr Lewis is a big Labour fan, and Sabrina at the lido is best pals with Penny Mordaunt and Donna Jones.
‘If people want a supine council where councillors are too afraid to do anything then they will end up with places in Rotherham.’
Meanwhile, Cllr Paul Godier said he received a ‘torrent of abuse’ from Cllr Ferrett who branded him a racist and illiterate after he was elected.
But Cllr Ferrett said: ‘I accused him of being illiterate because I couldn’t understand what he was saying and what he was tweeting. He apologised to me after the January council meeting for making the complaint and I respect him for that.’
Cllr Madden was accused of ‘belitting’ and ‘bullying’ people at a meeting over the future of the Patey service.
But he denied the claims and said he was simply ‘raising his voice’ so guests could hear him.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I was never aggressive. It’s absolute rubbish and no officers at the council have borne witness to that at all.
‘It’s just party politics.’