Bad language will 'occasionally slip out': Swearing reviewed by Telford councillors
Bad language will “occasionally slip out” of councillors’ mouths in “explosive moments”, and conduct rules should recognise they are “only human”, some members in Telford have said.
Councillor Arnold England – who, in late 2018, used a four-letter expletive in a CCG meeting to decry the organisation’s behaviour over the hospital reorganisation known as Future Fit – said a proposed revised code must recognise strong views and leave members “some ability to speak their minds”.
He was speaking while the Standards Committee discussed Telford & Wrekin Council’s response to a draft model code of conduct proposed by the Local Government Association (LGA).
Councillor Jacqui Seymour disagreed with Councillor England, saying rudeness “just undermines your argument”. Monitoring officer Anthea Lowe said she would feed back to the LGA that the term “civility”, included in its code, needed clarification.
The LGA has asked councils a series of questions, including whether the model code should oblige councillors to treat each other, authority employees, volunteers and the general public “with civility”.
Ms Lowe suggested the committee supports other obligations, including “not bullying or harassing any person” and “not bringing the role of councillor or the council into disrepute”, “to a great extent”, but only suggested “moderate agreement" with the civility clause.
“That might seem surprising, initially, but it’s around whether it is the right phrase,” she said.
Councillor England said: “I’ll give you an example. You know we’ve had a major issue with our hospital.
“I stood up in a public meeting, as a councillor, and told the decision-makers what I thought of them. I certainly was not civil.”
At a Telford and Wrekin NHS Clincial Commissioning Group governance board meeting in November 2018, Councillor England – who was, at the time, the borough’s cabinet member responsible for health and wellbeing – told members their behaviour regarding Future Fit “p****s me off”.
Minutes of the meeting read: “Councillor England said, in his opinion the CCG board were accepting decisions to reduce services in Telford & Wrekin and asked for them to join in the fight to retain all services at the Princess Royal Hospital.”
Then-chairman Jo Leahy “resented the accusation”, the report adds, as “the CCG had continually worked hard with the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust to address the recent issues and provide solutions”.
Councillor England told the Standards Committee: “I think when dealing with staff and people yes, I always do try to be civil and respectful, but when politics comes into it, when you totally disagree with something then you can say so.
“Obviously, swearing is out of the question, but even occasionally that will slip out.”
Councillor Peter Scott agreed, saying: “As long as you don’t really lose it you should be able to express what would be a very heartfelt opinion.
“Should a complaint come to the monitoring officer, it has to be taken into consideration that it was a very explosive moment.
“We shouldn’t be expected to act completely differently to everybody else. We’re only human.”
Councillor Seymour said: “I think you can express opinions that are strongly opposed to other people’s without the need to swear, be rude, lose your temper, because it just undermines your argument. Therefore there cannot be any excuse for that.”
Ms Lowe reminded members the draft code, if adopted, would only apply when councillors were acting in their official capacity or representing the council or the role.
“What the code is trying to achieve is that the discourse that takes place in is civil, albeit you can express strongly that you don’t agree with someone,” she said.
The committee accepted Ms Lowe’s response to the LGA’s question.