Board review plan for Bingham Town Council after bullying case

By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

An improvement board could be set up to aid the running of a Nottinghamshire town council after two of its members were found to have harassed the authority’s clerk.

Hundreds of Bingham residents asked for Rushcliffe Borough Council to take over the operation of Bingham Town Council until new elections could be held.

At a full Rushcliffe Borough Council meeting on Thursday (September 30) councillors approved recommendations that include “working collaboratively” with Bingham Town Council and an offer to create an Improvement Board to review its governance – similar to the board set up by the Government to assist Nottingham City Council with financial problems.

In a speech during the meeting, Tony Fox, of the Bingham Deserves Better group, branded the council as “manipulative, secretive and over-controlling”.

It comes after the Standards Committee of Rushcliffe Borough Council found that Bingham councillors Francis Purdue-Horan and John Stockwood had breached Bingham Town Council’s Member Code of Conduct.

Both have now been suspended from the Conservative Party, but remain in place as councillors at both Bingham Town Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council. Both left yesterday’s meeting while the item was heard and did not take part in the vote, having declared a conflict of interest.

It was alleged both “bullied the [Bingham] Town Clerk over a sustained period with the object of removing her from office” and “harassed and
repeatedly behaved unfairly and oppressively” towards her.

Tony Fox, of the Bingham Deserves Better group, said: “This petition is the biggest Rushcliffe Borough Council has ever received.

“Behind it is a widespread and longstanding concern over the way current leadership of the town council has and still is running it.

“Since 2010, no less than 24 councillors have chosen not to stand for re-election.

“The current toxic environment is seriously damaging the reputation of both councils.

“We believe that the Bingham leadership is manipulative, secretive and over-controlling.”

Leader of Rushliffe Borough Council Simon Robinson (Con) said it was not possible to dissolve Bingham Town Council due to the law – but offered to set up an Improvement Board,  which Bingham council must agree to.

He said: “I understand and appreciate the passion with which this petition has been delivered.

“You cannot fail to be impressed with the amount of people who signed this petition, nearly 10 per cent of the population of Bingham.

“This is a message to Bingham Town Council to listen and take on board this petition.

“I want you to work with Rushcliffe Borough Council to support this board 100 per cent, to open your hearts to make Bingham Council a better place so this never ever happens again.”

Rushcliffe Councillor Mike Gaunt (Lab), added: “At their best, town parish councils are the voice of local communities.

“At their worst, town parish councils are a laughing stock.

“Unfortunately, the terrible activities that have been occurring at Bingham are clearly the actions of a town council operating at its worst.

“They have been accused of bullying public servants and repeatedly carrying out important decisions behind closed doors.

“This can’t be allowed to disappear and the terrible actions pass by unpunished.”

Rushcliffe councillors unanimously passed the recommendation on the creation of the board, that will offer to review governance and improvement issues.

The recommendation that was passed also asks Rushcliffe Borough Council’s Monitoring Officer to make any necessary changes to the constitution to allow the authority to establish such a group.

A statement from Bingham Town Council said: “Bingham Town Council are awaiting confirmation of the recommendations made by Rushcliffe Borough Council and will discuss these at a meeting of the Full Council.”

Cllr Purdue-Horan and Cllr Stockwood have also been contacted for comment following the meeting.

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