Call to treat councillors ‘more charitably’ after wave of complaints

The full meeting of North Yorkshire Council. Picture: LDRS.

The leader of England’s third largest council by population has called for people to treat parish, town and unitary councillors “more charitably” amid concerns large volumes of complaints being levelled could deter people from serving their communities.

North Yorkshire Council leader Councillor Carl Les was speaking after it emerged the authority had received some 147 formal complaints about councillors serving on the county’s hundreds of parish and town councils since last April, most of which have been found to be “without merit”.

A report to a meeting of the council’s standards committee on Friday (March 15) states just 24 of the complaints related to elected North Yorkshire Council members and 123 were made against parish and town councillors, who receive no reimbursement for their time and efforts.

The report states of the 123 of 147 cases assessed so far, 100 cases did not merit any further action, five cases were recommended for informal resolution and 17 cases are to be investigated through a total of five Investigations.

Some 40 formal complaints against councillors in North Yorkshire made last August alone and 47 of the complaints were brought by the same complainant against members of a council.

The most common theme of the complaints is “lack of respect” being allegedly shown towards residents, council staff or other council members, followed by claims of discrimination, bullying and councillors seeking to gain an advantage through their position.

The standards report comes almost two years after concerns were raised at Scarborough Borough Council over the impact of complaints against councillors after it received 30 times more complaints about councillors than North Yorkshire County Council did.

A number of the complaints relate to a row that enveloped Thornton-le-Dale Parish Council, which it was said had affected the health of a number of councillors leading to several stepping down.

Last month, the National Association of Local Councils warned abuse from members of the public towards councillors and staff was posing a threat to local democracy, calling for more to be done to stop councillors being forced to stand down and to improve civility and respect in councils.

The warning followed Local Government Association research last year that 88 of the parish and town councillors reported having suffered abuse, intimidation, or both, which was higher than councillors in other tiers of local government at 81 per cent.

Earlier this week, a meeting of one the authority’s scrutiny committees heard councillors alert a senior North Yorkshire Police officer to a wave of online abuse they had recently suffered to be told the force was looking at how it would help protect the democratic process in upcoming elections.

When asked if he was concerned about the volume of complaints being made without merit putting standing or potential councillors from putting themselves forward to serve their communities, Coun Les said: “It clearly could have that effect as nobody likes to be criticised, especially when they are trying to do the best for their communities.

“The environment is now that people will complain more and more loudly, especially using social media. It could have a greater impact on those volunteers who put themselves forward.

“I think people need to be more charitable towards men and women who put themselves forward to serve their communities. In my experience, having been a parish councillor for well over a decade, the vast majority of people are serving as parish councillors for the right reasons.  Very few are there to feather their own nests and they very quickly get seen for what they are.

“While unitary councillors  at least get some recompense for the time and effort they are putting into serving our communities, whereas parish councillors do it for nothing other than the satisfaction of serving the communities they live in.”

Coun Les said parish councils were “the building blocks of our communities” and were a key part of North Yorkshire County Council’s proposal to reorganise local government and that “most parish councillors by far are unsung heroes in their communities”.

He added: “People should go more often to their parish councils to see the work they are doing, not just the controversial items, but the ordinary items that are being discussed month in month out for their benefit.”

2 Comments

  1. If you do not like the ‘Heat in the Kitchen’ comes to mind, what did these Councilors expect with larger Areas of responsibility to represent in this Behemoth of a Council, the individuals chose to be there no doubt on promises to make a difference, any complaint needs investigation because that is where we are today with Society being less tolerant and brainwashed to challenge everything, the 24 complaints upheld so far represents 16% of the total not an acceptable number, get on with it or get out, why take such a position if you are not up to it!

  2. So many citizens are complaining about the salaries of the paid councillors which , when so many are struggling financially, are through the roof .How can councillors justify being paid more than the Prime Minister

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