Telford and Wrekin Council were faced with a challenging situation in 2019 when they commissioned an inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. Councillors were at risk of abuse and aggression from residents and national groups interested in the inquiry. The council took this risk seriously, working with local police to provide councillors with appropriate and proportionate safety measures depending on the level of risk.
Councillors are responsible for setting the policy direction of their council and sometimes this means presiding over controversial issues or making difficult decisions that residents may disagree with.
Telford and Wrekin Council were faced with a challenging situation in 2019 when they commissioned an inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. Councillors were at risk of abuse and aggression from residents and national groups interested in the inquiry. The council took this risk seriously, providing councillors with appropriate and proportionate safety measures depending on the level of risk.
Since the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016, the issue of politician’s safety has been coming up the agenda and it has become clear that national and local politicians are at greater risk of abuse and aggression from members of the public.
In Telford and Wrekin these risks have been particularly highlighted in the context of dealing with highly contentious and challenging issues as part of an inquiry into child sexual exploitation. The inquiry was national news and received a range of responses from local residents, the public more widely, including threats to officers and councillors from national pressure groups and individuals.
In the light of other serious and high-profile incidents like the murders of Jo Cox MP and more recently Sir David Amess MP, the council recognised they have a significant role in helping councillors mitigate the risk associated with public life generally and during periods of heightened tensions.
Telford and Wrekin Council has been working to establish a baseline of support for councillors over the last few years. Initially this took the form of personal safety training and the provision of a lone worker alarm system in line with the offer for staff at the council. The StaySafe app is available to all councillors and includes panic alarm functionality as well as mechanisms to programme in meetings and check-in points to support councillors in alerting someone if they are in difficulty. The council also support councillors with risk assessments and tips for holding ward surgeries safely.
The council stepped up the support available in response to the inquiry and other incidents and took a risk-based approach to councillor safety. In the first instance, security was provided for high-risk council meetings and other events and security of council buildings was enhanced. The council did an exercise with the police to risk assess each councillor and designate them into high, medium and low risk bands. Depending on the level of risk, the councillors were offered a police assessment of their home security and CCTV, video doorbells or personal safety advice and signage to deter anyone for attempting to gain entry into the home.
General advice from the police helped councillors put in place mitigations where they considered it necessary, for example separating the letter box from the house to reduce the risk of harmful things being posted into the home. The police has also been key in placing high-priority markers for police response on some councillors home and removing councillors number plates from the DVLA website to make them less early to identify and track.
The risk-based approach helped councillors to understand their own risk and get the relevant support from the council and the police to suit their needs and risk level. This helped address the concerns of councillors who were particularly involved with high-profile issues at the council.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The council have been on a journey in terms of councillor safety, building on early work setting out basic advice and support to offering bespoke assessments, equipment, resources and advice depending on individual risk profiles. The approach is being sustained by councillors and council officers in recognition of changes to the local and national contexts and the risk associated with being a public figure.
The council has identified that the historic approach to councillor support may no longer be appropriate for councillors in the modern context. Councils may need to do more to support councillors in response to risk factors associated with their public role and specific events in the local area. Bringing in key partners like the police is key to accurately assessing risk and putting in place mitigations to serious harm.