Coventry council's debate on its 'bullying epidemic' descends into angry personal attacks - The Coventry Observer

11th Aug, 2022

Coventry council's debate on its 'bullying epidemic' descends into angry personal attacks

Felix Nobes 20th Mar, 2019 Updated: 20th Mar, 2019

CONTROLLING Labour councillors have shunned calls for an indepedent barrister-led inquiry into bullying on Coventry City Council.

A fiery and passionate debate on bullying at a full council meeting yesterday (March 19) fittingly saw personal allegations and angry attacks, as well as rejected and forced apologies.

In a debate which rumbled on for hours, there were reignited calls for a more considerate and respectful politics in the city – both inside the chamber and out – and for councillors to lead by example.

The debate comes after well-publicised and wide-reaching allegations – including from union GMB and opposition councillors – of ‘institutional’ bullying across all levels of the authority.

The motion submitted by Conservative councillors read: “Coventry City Council will not tolerate bullying in any form whatsoever and will instigate a full, independent inquiry into institutionalised bullying allegations.

“This council will also implement a moratorium on the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), except where commercial confidentiality applies.”

But Labour councillors used their majority to approve an amendment to prevent the independent probe.

Conservative Councillor Ken Taylor – who moved the debate – said: “The culture in this authority has changed to such an extent over the last few years I even spoke to a senior officer to express my concerns and he said I haven’t ever seen such behaviour before on this council.

“It runs through the whole of the organisation with senior councillors being accused as well as senior officers right down to frontline services.”

Council chiefs refuted the findings of union GMB – who joined calls for a probe – which found 85 per cent of its members at the council had experienced bullying in a survey.

Coun Taylor said the council’s staff survey, used to refute GMB’s findings, would never have revealed issues because workers would never tell their employers they are being bullied.

Ex-cabinet member for city services Labour’s Jayne Innes took an opportunity to emotionally reveal the alleged abuse she and other female politicians suffer on social media and in the council chamber.

She said: “In 24 years of activism I never felt a personal risk until I joined Coventry City Council.

“The political environment has become more hostile because of social media.

“Over the years there have been concerted attempts to silence some of Coventry’s voices and chase them from social media.

“And sadly the targets for this kind of abuse are almost always women.”

She called for more respectful debate in the chamber and a hardline approach from council chiefs punishing those who launch unsubstantiated personal attacks.

Many of these sentiments were echoed by Conservative Coun Tim Mayer who said: “Things are fairly toxic.

“Over the last few council meetings we have heard pretty vile language and it does need to stop.”

Coun Mayer called on his own members to apologise for upsetting those on the opposite side of the chamber.

In turn, he demanded an apology from Coun Rois Alli who was found to have broken the council’s code of conduct over his threat to ‘stamp on’ Coun Mayer, among other things.

Coun Mayer claimed an inquiry was required because of 18 formal allegations of bullying at the council over the last three years, as well as a rise in NDAs, which we revealed.

In a seemingly unconnected allegation, Coun Robert Thay was then forced to apologise to leader of the Conservatives, Coun Gary Ridley, for accusing him of speaking in defence of allegedly racist and bullying remarks made by one his colleagues in previous years – despite not being present at the debate Coun Thay referenced.

In turn, leader of the council George Duggins insisted he has never tolerated bullying, denying there was a problem on the authority which was shortlisted for Council of the Year 2018.

He said endemic bullying problems would be picked up by numerous inspectors of the council and its services, including watchdogs Ofsted.

He also accused opposition Conservatives of ‘grandstanding’.

But he did say he would like to see the use of NDAs reduced, although he claimed they are nothing to do with complaints against council members and were unconnected to the issue of bullying.

Earlier in the meeting, Coun Ridley took the opportunity to remind cabinet member for jobs and regeneration Coun Jim O’Boyle his personal remark calling Coun Glenn Williams a ‘clown’ was issued ahead of a debate on bullying.

Coun O’Boyle then curiously claimed Coun Ridley was bullying him for shouting too loudly.

Earlier in the meeting before the debate had begun, Coun Pervez Akhtar accused Lord Mayor Coun John Blundell of displaying a ‘double standard’ in selectively condoning abusive language during proceedings.

At another point in the debate, he waved his finger indignantly at Tory councillors, saying: “I am not going to take a lesson in civility from you guys.

“For the last three years you have bullied, intimidated and targeted my friend Coun Jayne Innes, a fine lady and fantastic councillor.” The Conservatives vehemently denied this.

Coun Innes then spoke about the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) last year in which Conservative councillors accused her of misleading the public.

“I’m one tough nut, you’re not going to crack me, but I am a bit fed up of female members on this side of the chamber being told to get back in the kitchen if it’s too hot for us.”

Coun Mayer said criticism over Coun Innes’ role in the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) scandal, the subject of the EGM, was legitimate democratic debate and not bullying.

Lord Mayor Blundell who was put under increasing pressure as the debate escalated, said he was forced to draw the line on any further personal remarks.

Conservative councillors say they called for the inquiry in the interests of transparency and proving that any allegations of bullying are being dealt with proactively.

Labour councillors said the council’s own protocol for managing bullying is sufficient where the problem arises.

Coun Mutton concluded by saying three dates were set up for the GMB – one of many trade unions in the city – to meet with council chiefs to discuss evidence for its claims. He alleged they did not show up on two occasions previously scheduled.

He also called on anyone with evidence of bullying to bring it to him for formal assessment.

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