Improvement board for council that’s ‘just about hit rock bottom’

By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

An improvement board will be set up to help a council which has “just about hit rock bottom”.

In a heated meeting, councillors voted in favour of Rushcliffe Borough Council aiding the running of the council after two of its members were found to have harassed the authority’s clerk.

Members of the public filled the meeting room at Tuesday’s full council, with one calling for the two councillors to resign.

One councillor passionately described how she has previously felt “isolated” and like she “had no voice” while sitting on the council – and another branded the actions of some councillors as “shameful”.

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 after allegations emerged that they had “harassed and repeatedly behaved unfairly and oppressively” towards the clerk.

Both have since been expelled from the Conservative party.

Councillor Gemma Simms (Con) said: “I absolutely agree with the improvement board, but this process should not have taken so long.

“I shouldn’t have felt that I didn’t have a voice, because I did.

“Two councillors have been found guilty of harassment of the former clerk, they have not been held accountable for their actions.”

Councillor Tony Wallace (Labour) said: “I will be wholeheartedly supporting the proposal for the improvement board.

“This is tragic that I am having to stand up here and make these comments.

“It is important to recognise just how low we’ve sunk. Bingham Town Council has just about hit rock bottom.

“That is something that should shame people in this room.

“You simply cannot mistreat people in the way that these people did and hope to get away from that. It was shameful then, it is shameful now and it will be shameful tomorrow.

“This was an appalling piece of behaviour and don’t be under any illusions about it.”

But he promised residents: “We will move forward, we will get better.”

Councillor John Stockwood responded: “As a borough councillor I have participated in two recent peer reviews at Rushcliffe Borough Council, so I am familiar with the process.

“It is a standard method across local councils for sharing best practices.

“It will be a positive thing for us to have this peer review approach.

“This is a positive opportunity for Bingham Town Council to participate in a similar process. We are happy to support it.”

A member of the public added: “You have been listening, but with deaf ears.

“Over the last two years I have written to every member of this council pointing out the road you were taking and how it will end up.

“We are now in the situation where it is going to cost Bingham a lot of money.”

Tony Fox set up the Bingham Deserves Better petition which asked for Rushcliffe Borough Council to take over the operation of Bingham Town Council until new elections could be held.

He said during the meeting: “Being a public servant is not a free pass on improper behaviour.

“Standards in public life matter and should be scrupulously adhered to. When they are violated they should be robustly dealt with.

“The reputation of this council is now at an all time low.

“My question to you as a Conservative is this. Are you going to continue to support your disgraced colleagues or are you going to respect your party’s conclusion and formally stop supporting them?”

Mayor Andrew Shelton responded: “There is only a small number who are official Conservative councillors now.

“The party rules will be upheld.”

An Improvement Board similar to the board set up by the Government to assist Nottingham City Council with financial problems will now be set up at Bingham.

Francis Purdue-Horan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Despite all of the debate and hot air last night, Bingham Town Council agreed the following facts unanimously.

“Rushcliffe BC rejected the online petition ‘Bingham Deserves Better’ as invalid.

“There is no case to illegally abolish Bingham Town Council.

“I look forward to seeing more details on the proposed Improvement Board, as I cannot see much evidence that there is much for it to do, despite all the huff and puff of the Leader of Rushcliffe BC.”

Cllr Stockwood did not respond to our request for comment.

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