Friday, January 04, 2013

Rutland County Council threatens to sue its own members

From the Rutland Times:
Lawyers have advised Rutland County Council that it can sue three of its members for defamation following an investigation. 
Councillors will consider whether to take action against Rutland Anti-Corruption Group founders Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nick Wainwright at a special meeting on Thursday. 
The council agreed to take legal advice on the group’s actions following a meeting in October and public services law firm Bevan Brittan was instructed to carry out an investigation. 
The law firm has advised the council that allegations made by the three councillors have damaged the authority’s reputation. It also said the name of the group implies there is corruption within the council. 
A report by council chief executive Helen Briggs to Thursday’s meeting alleges the three councillors have made “reckless and serious allegations” which were “unsubstantiated by evidence, made with the potential to harm the reputation of officers, members and the council itself”. 
The council’s lawyers said in their report that e-mails sent by the group to Mrs Briggs were “very likely to amount to harrassment [sic]”. 
Concerns have also been raised by the council about the three councillors’ alleged “failure to comply with council processes which impeded the efficient operation of the council”.
The idea that councillors are the equivalent of middle-ranking council employees who must toe the line and not speak out in public crept in under Labour.

I had hoped that this view of local government would be swept away by the Coalition, but not so. Indeed the BBC News report of this story tells us that
The defamation action would be possible thanks to the Localism Act 2011 which grants local authorities the power to act like an individual.
This is dangerous nonsense. What were Conservative and Lib Dem MPs thinking of?

Let's leave the last word to one of the councillors under threat:
Mr Richardson denied they had done anything wrong and said the group had to ask questions to carry out their job. 
He added: "The fact is, we are elected by the people, we are elected by them to represent them and to do the best for them. 
"We can only do that if we have the proper information in front of us."

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