Council Motion: Defending Democracy

A motion on ensuring democratic processes are healthy, fit for purpose and accessible to all.

Council believes that democratic processes should be healthy, fit for purpose and accessible to all.

Council also recognises and affirms the work already happening in terms of support for members experiencing harassment, abuse and intimidation however it acknowledges that this is a growing problem. Harassment, abuse and intimidation faced by Councillors and officers is increasing in both volume and severity nationally. 

Council notes that:

Members are also in a more vulnerable position as we are often by the public seen as the “front line” of the Council but have less protections as are not council ‘employees.’

Councillors often deal with very contentious issues too such as planning and transport decisions which can elicit a lot of heightened emotions and responses

Council acknowledges that this can harm democracy by:-

(i) discouraging members from speaking or voting in line with their conscience 

(ii) discouraging people (particularly women and minority groups/those with protected characteristics) from standing for election (or re-election). 

Council commits therefore to taking a strong, clear and visible approach to dealing with this issue and calls for officers to consult with members and produce a report setting out clear steps to improve and strengthen protections against Harassment, Abuse and Intimidation.

Council Commitment

Council calls for 

  • A report to be produced (with involvement from members) to help ‘shore up’ the support offered to members and officers 
  • A single point of contact for resolution with a clear timeline 
  • Appropriate, bespoke training
  • Police single point of contact for established and regular meetings  to share trends, patterns and ensure clear pathways for escalation.
  • Council comms/ social media to make clear ‘rules’ around online engagement but also make clear that ‘freedom of speech’ doesn’t mean that anything goes and that misinformation will not be condoned.
  • Strong, clear and visible commitment from Council that there will be zero tolerance of harassment, abuse and intimidation towards Councillors carrying out their work.
  • Standards Board to revisit ‘vexatious complainants’ and see if we need to strengthen this and what constitutes ‘vexatious’ i.e. repeated and unwanted patterns of behaviour, misuse of code of conduct system etc.
  • Council to clearly make visible to the public  Councillor roles, responsibilities and clear lines of what we are responsible for and what not as Councillors. 
  • To lobby government to be aware that this problem does affect Councillors very much too (not just MPs) and that there are far fewer protections for us especially with online abuse and gaps with us not being ‘employees’  with those rights afforded and also potentially not meeting the  Police/ CPS threshold for support i.e. actual threats of violence.

Councillor and Party Leaders’ Commitment

  • Councillors to consider supporting the pledges below and to reaffirm their commitment to the seven principles of public life as set out in the member code of conduct:

1)To put ‘[OUR AREA]’ above political divides, avoid language or behaviour that incites hate or encourages disrespect, and to work together to build a more united [AREA].

2) To reform debate as a way to build consensus: not as a way to tear each other down for political point-scoring but to speak with truth and integrity.

3)To uphold a level of respect and professionalism between colleagues.