Social media use linked to rise in complaints against Portsmouth councillors

SOCIAL media use has been linked to increasing criticism of local politicians, as Portsmouth councillors received more than double the complaints in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Monday, 4th January 2021, 10:30 am
Updated Monday, 4th January 2021, 10:31 am

Data obtained by The News revealed that in 2020 a total of 16 formal complaints were filed against city councillors - up from seven the year before.

And of these 14 were made by residents, and two by fellow councillors.

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Two Portsmouth councillors were suspended from their party this year over controversial social media posts. Picture: Adobe

A spokeswoman for Portsmouth City Council said this could be due to the council moving to virtual meetings during the pandemic 'which are more open to scrutiny by both members and the public.'

She added: 'Also there are more complaints about social media comments and usage - again this is probably because more councillors and residents have been using online platforms during the pandemic.'

All were resolved through 'informal action' carried out by an officer.

However, there was no end of controversy in 2020 around social media use as two city councillors were accused sharing racist or inappropriate content on personal accounts.

Portsmouth Conservative councillor Lee Mason was temporarily suspended from his party for this Snapchat post.

Former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Lee Mason, of the Conservative party, was suspended in April after a picture from his Snapchat account emerged showing a hot cross bun with a swastika baked into the top.

Cllr Mason denied making the bun and was reinstated to the party in August.

And in June Cllr Linda Symes was also suspended from the Tory party after sharing alleged racist Facebook posts. As a result 38 members of the public sent informal complaints to the council and 4,100 people signed a petition calling for her removal.

The complaints were dismissed by the council, but she is still registered as a non-aligned independent councillor.

Portsmouth councillor Linda Symes was suspended from her party earlier this year for sharing alleged racist Facebook posts. Picture: Sarah Standing (141517-6245)

Havant Borough Council also saw an increase in complaints against councillors.

In 2019 six were lodged and in 2020 it rose to 10. Of these five were made by residents, four by councillors and one by an officer. None resulted in disciplinaries.

But at Hampshire County Council there was a slight decrease with 10 complaints made in 2020 and 11 made in 2019.

Two complaints made in 2019 did reach the assessment panel stage and alleged that a member of the council had breached the code of conduct for members in 'considering a grant application in which they had a personal interest.'

In December it was ruled that county councillor Sean Woodward had breached code of conduct rules over a £15,000 grant bid for a motorcycle display team. He subsequently resigned from his cabinet position on the council.

In both 2019 and 2020 two complaints were made about councillors to Gosport Borough Council - none of which resulted in further action.

And in Fareham seven complaints were made in both years, with no resulting action.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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