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This from Pauline Evans, Sandown and Alasdair Steane, Bembridge, in their own words. Both are ‘Our Island’ candidates in the 2021 Isle of Wight council elections. Ed
current and former Councillors (read explanation) in two of the most fractious and widely-reported dysfunctional Town and Parish Councils on the Island, namely Sandown and Bembridge.
We are sure many people wrongly consider the problems to be about personality clashes and petty politicking. We would therefore like to explain the causes and effects of such poorly performing Councils up and down the country, as typified by the recent viral video of Handforth Town Council.
Abolition of the central Standards Board
The Localism Act 2011 abolished the central Standards Board which acted as a form of Ombudsman over-seeing the behaviours within, and formal complaints about, Councils and individual Councillors.
Instead, this oversight was passed down to the local County and Unitary Authorities, but without the resources to service this legal requirement. Responsibility fell to the relevant Council Monitoring Officer, who had little to no powers of sanction over any inappropriate behaviours.
The background to these changes can be found here: Conduct for local authority members in a post-Standards Board world.
Councillors can behave with impunity
It did not take long for Cllrs, and local Clerks, to realise that once elected Councillors could behave with impunity for the next four years of their terms of office without being held to account by their electors in the knowledge that they could not be removed from office.
In the absence of any sanction power from the LA Monitoring Officer the only recourse is for complainants to take their cases of complaint to Court at high expense.
Creation of ‘shadow’ groups
The reality has been that some Cllrs now form shadow groups within their Councils through which they can control processes, procedures, and decisions where they have a majority or sufficient collective authority.
This activity takes place privately to the exclusion of other Cllrs and out of the sight and knowledge of the communities they purport to represent. Sadly, it appears that many Clerks, knowing which side of their bread is buttered, allow this to happen unchallenged or even actively support this behaviour.
Nolan Principles of Standards
Cllrs are bound by the seven Nolan Principles of Standards in Public Office. These are:
Read more about The Seven Principles of Public Life
Nolan Principles ignored at will
However, with no enforcement or sanction powers over them, many Cllrs treat these requirements with contempt and ignore the Nolan Principles at will. Those Cllrs who object to this behaviour are treated as pariahs and regularly face abuse, bullying, intimidation and harassment both inside and outside of the Council Chamber.
Arguably, one of the most serious transgressions is to disregard any semblance of Openness. This includes the “bouncing” of decisions upon some Cllrs and the community, taking decisions that are not in the public interest at private session without justification, and failure to adequately report those decisions.
In our view, Sandown and Bembridge have numerous examples of majority group Cllrs abusing the Nolan Principles and the privileges that being Cllrs confer.
Where this happens it results in conflict and disunity if there are Cllrs and members of the public who challenge and voice their disapproval and objections. It is arguable that when such tensions occur, and relationships become fractious, that this is a direct consequence of the desire of local people to hold their representatives to account. Casual observers should not dismiss such conflict as warring egos, but look below the surface at what is the cause of it.
Use votes wisely
Clearly the key responsibility to change this situation lies with Government legislation – this has not been forthcoming.
In the absence of such legislation local people must ensure that Cllrs and Clerks fully uphold the commitment to the Nolan Principles.
More importantly it is essential that they use their votes wisely in the Town and Parish Council elections on 6th May.