County council says ‘no upper limit’ on councillors’ safety

County Hall, Northallerton.

The leadership of North Yorkshire County Council, which has seen its elected members face violent threats and abuse, has emphasised “there can be no financial limit on protecting democracy” as it launched an open-ended fund for security measures to protect councillors.

A meeting of the authority’s executive approved setting aside a £15,000 fund to which any of its 72 elected members will be able to apply, just weeks after Conservative MP Sir David Amess was killed at a constituency surgery.

The move also follows some North Yorkshire councillors reporting receiving death threats, abusive letters and emails, being held hostage and having their property vandalised.

Under the initiative councillors will be able to anonymously apply to the security fund, for which there would be no investigation as to whether there is any evidential support for the councillor’s concerns.

The meeting was told the fund would be a process to help allay councillor concerns as they perceive them to be.

The council’s deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd, whose partner is Darlington MP Peter Gibson, told the meeting no elected representative at whatever level should feel threatened or barred from seeking public office.

He said: “I also believe it’s the duty of any democratic organisation to protect and to promote democracy, and to that end I welcome a fund. And that fund will apply to all members of all parties or none. Party politics is not an issue whatsoever.”

Coun Dadd said the fund would mean elected members who felt frightened walking down the street could be provided with low-cost measures such as panic alarms, adding: “More serious threats could be and have been made, so it might be home security.”

He said while the amount of funding given to councillors needed to be proportional and pragmatic, the authority should not set an upper limit on the amount of money that could be spent protecting elected members.

Coun Dadd said: “Money should not be an obstacle to achieving the outcome we are seeking. We have pencilled in £15,000, but I very much hope the new unitary authority will not set a limit on this because there can be no financial limit on the defence of democracy.”

Councillors also agreed to enable elected members with concerns to contact designated officers to provide information about potentially violent persons before undertaking a home visit.

However, concerns were raised over how that would work as councillors were often unaware of concerns about individuals before they arrived at a property.

Whitby cum Mulgrave division councillor and executive member David Chance said: “I had a situation that revolved around my support for the refugee programme and I had a number of emails and telephone calls and I simply asked that my details be removed from the council website at that time. But I can see  if there are contentious issues some members may feel threatened.”

Councillor Andrew Lee’s call for the council to take a pro-active approach and offer members who may feel their concerns are too trivial a range of low-cost security measures was also approved.

The safety initiative will also promote the reporting of incidents of abuse so the council can better understand the scale of the issue and what further actions can be taken to reduce risks for councillors.