This week the defence secretary was the latest to fall on his sword, replaced by the previous party whip who would be the one to know about allegations, public and non-public. There appears an expectation of party members to keep their own members in order, often without involving the police, it seems.
In councils, group leaders work to help keep members on the straight and narrow, and support them through any attacks or false accusations, whilst lone Independents must fend for themselves. Councils need to have a system for supporting members who are subjected to abuse. How does your council protect you, as a lone worker?
The LGA Independent Group fought to keep standards amongst councillors. As you know, councils now draw up their own codes, sometimes upheld with the help of a "standards committee" and sometimes instead relying more on the monitoring officer and an "independent" person. Many councils take complaints to their audit committee, but the political makeup means there is a risk they will not be perceived as entirely fair and unbiased. Do you feel your council is tackling these appropriately?
Reporting abuse to the police can be confidential in the early stages, until the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) believes it is in the public interest to prosecute. The number of witnesses or similar accusations is relevant. If the CPS chooses not to prosecute, the victim has the right to seek a review of the CPS decision. (Protester who barricaded council leader's home with wheelie bins has charges dropped, Evening Standard, 9 July 2016) We have asked for support in drawing up a guide outlining the criteria for prosecution and what the police and CPS will do.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently reviewing intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates and implications for councillors including the abuse of elected councillors. Certainly, we Independent Group members are not weak wallflowers, but threats, abuse, harassment and intimidation directed at councillors, because they are councillors, undermines the democratic process and discourages people from doing the job. As extremist groups seek to undermine our country, it is important to be consistent in not tolerating attacks on public servants. We need a range of people standing as councillors to best reflect and be part of our communities, thus enhancing cohesion (The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration) and to achieve that, we need councillors to be respected and protected from abuse.
The LGA has been invited to contribute to this review and I would be very interested in your anecdotes and suggestions for improvements. Examples of good practice are as useful as lessons to learn.