This is a blog about accusations of lying, refusals to retract and thumping of tables in the council chamber. It is also about councillors misbehaving and about the complaints made against them.

I have been concerned about behaviour at council meetings for some time, including the Southern Planning Committee. The behaviour of some of the Conservatives at the last full Shropshire Council on 2 March was a disgrace. It was an embarrassment to the council’s reputation. I cannot believe this would be allowed in any other major council without excluding the member concerned.

There were also twelve complaints from the public about unitary councillors last year. None were upheld.

In a discussion on the budget at the beginning of the month, finance portfolio holder Gwilym Butler occasionally seemed to be struggling to speak because of what I presume was his anger, attacked the Labour group:

“To say we don’t the Conservatives don’t care is a lie”.

Later in the debate, he accused opposition members of acting in an unprofessional manner, scaremongering and political postering. He said opposition members had no plan to solve the “parrot in the room”, the need to save £51 million. When asked by the chairman, he would not withdraw his accusation of lying.

The council’s constitution gives the Chairman powers “to not hear further a member… or to exclude them  from the meeting.” That extreme action would require a vote of members and it, if it had been applied on 2 March, would have been lost as the Conservatives are the majority and vote as a pack.

There is another council constitutional rule: “To adhere to the highest standards of behaviour in public office and promoting respectful and effective relationships.” I didn’t see much evidence of that at the council meeting and certainly not from Councillor Butler.

The Conservatives need to grow up. They decided that the council would not be consensual way back in 2009. They decided that council business will be based on challenge and conflict. And they have championed conflict ever since.

There was applause during the budget debate, beginning with the Conservatives clapping their leader after passionately she defended the 2023/24 budget. It reminded me of those staged performances where someone the stage held up a sign saying APPLAUD. I am sure it was due to genuine excitement among the Tory faithful who see their route to salvation. Nevertheless, later in the meeting the chair told assembled councillors to stop clapping.

Table thumping and knocking as an expression of applause or anger – sometimes it’s hard to tell which, has become the norm among the Conservative group. Knocking seems to have spread from Conservatives in Westminster (the 1922 Committee is renowned for the habit) to local Conservative councillors. There are even rumours that opposition councillors are wagering on which point in the meeting, Conservative councillor Dean Carroll, the ubiquitous portfolio holder, will first thump the table. I even spotted leader Lezley Picton thumping at one point at the last meeting.

I first heard table knocking from the German representatives an international archaeological conference back in the 1980s but I think the tradition of “Akademisches Klopfen” goes back into long forgotten history. But it is certainly so un-British for the political party that gave us Brexit.

I understand that when the council meeting on 2 March went into private session to consider exempt matters, the chair of the meeting gave councillors a warning about their language. But as it was a private comment, it is not on the public record. The accusation of lying by a cabinet member and his refusal to apologise is on record.

I hope this does not happen again. Councillors should be allowed to disagree and take different points of view without being called liars.

Turning now to complaints (I have had a few against me over the eight years I have been in office).

In a first for Shropshire Council, it is to consider an annual report from the chair of the standards committee next Thursday. This a welcomed advance in transparency.

The standards committee and officers considered 27 complaints during 2022. Of these, twelve were about Shropshire Councillors, the rest about town and parish councillors. Nearly all complaints were dealt with by the monitoring officer, with just four referred to the standards committee. Among the complaints were:

Behaviour in meetings. “Allowed verbal attack on officer in council meeting”: councillor resigned prior to initial determination of the complaint. “Rude at a meeting of parish council”: behaviour not likely to amount to a failure to comply with the code of conduct.

Behaviour outside meetings. “Rude and aggressive during visit”: apology offered. “Aggressive, abusive & bullying”: no action as apology received. “Accused the complainant of bullying him”: no evidence of failure to comply with the code of conduct. “Intimidating and bullying email”: no evidence of failure to comply with the code of conduct. Abusive neighbour: conduct clearly not undertaken in official capacity so code of conduct not relevant.

Failed to respond to plea for help. Apology offered and assistance provided.

Potential criminal behaviour. “Threatened another with blackmail”: conduct clearly not undertaken in official capacity so code of conduct not relevant. As the allegation might amount to a criminal offence, the complainant was advised to consider a referral to the police.

The council finds it difficult to deal with complaints about remarks made on social media because it is not clear whether a councillor is acting in a personal or councillor capacity.

The report could be improved in future years by segregating complaints against town and parish councils from those against unitary councillors.

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