Coventry Conservatives have resigned from a “toothless” council committee over concerns it is failing to uphold standards of respect expected of city councillors.
The opposition party has withdrawn Cllr Allan Andrews from the ethics committee after a complaint about comments made by a Labour councillor were quashed.
A complaint had been made that Labour Cllr Pervez Akhtar breached the Code of Conduct of Elected Members in October’s full council by failing to show respect, however it did not reach a Stage 2 investigation in front of the ethics committee.
In questions to the cabinet member for finance over funding in October, Cllr Akhtar said: ”Does he agree that we do not have any more Conservatives, all we have is 17th century evil Tories…Because [of] the lack of funding, we have thousands and thousands of deaths in our country. As far as I’m concerned, the Tories have blood on their hands.”
The comments at the time resulted in Lord Mayor Cllr Ann Lucas interjecting: “Your questions are in the form of really quite rude accusations, and I’m not taking them.”
Details of the complaint were aired at full council on Tuesday, March 16, where Conservative Tim Sawdon criticised the level of “visceral hatred” in the council chamber.
He said: “We as a group have decided to leave the ethics committee because frankly it is a toothless wonder and our members have resigned. The ethics committee needs a complete overhaul.”
Clarifying his comments in the meeting, Cllr Akhtar said: “My comments were not referring to my colleagues and friends in our chamber. I was referring to the central government of their negligence and dithering in tackling Covid-19. That is what I was referring to.”
However Cllr Sawdon said the local Conservative party – given their backing of the government – was “associated to the remarks whether he likes it or not”.
The debate was raised as the council approved a new Code of Conduct for councillors.
Speaking after the meeting, Conservative leader Cllr Gary Ridley said the ethics process was “fundamentally flawed” and “does not uphold the code”.
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He said: “We need to treat each other with respect and as opponents not enemies. At the moment we are treating each other as enemies and it is not the right way. We need to find a way to disagree with each other but have respect.
“The nastiness and name-calling is not a good thing. We need to play the ball and not the man. Unfortunately we have seen allegations of lying and in previous years we have seen a member threatening to hit another. They are not helpful.”
Cllr Abdul Khan, who is portfolio holder as cabinet member for policing and equalities, defended Cllr Akhtar’s comments as a “perfectly valid and legitimate comment”.
However cross-party concern was raised about what powers the ethics committee had once a breach had been found.
Labour Cllr John Mutton, a member of the committee, said: “We all feel passionately about political views but it is a double-edged sword. It doesn’t just go one way. I have also had numerous comments made to me and about me by members of the opposition.
“Unfortunately the comments that have been made are absolutely correct. It is a bulldog with no teeth ever since the government of today took away the powers of ethics committee.”
A council spokesman said the authority’s Ethics Committee “shared the national concerns about the ‘lack of teeth’ that they have”.
“The Committee on Standards in Public Life has made recommendations to the government about increasing the sanctions available however any such changes would require new legislation,” they added.
Responding to the complaint raised by the Conservatives, the council said: “As it stands, an initial complaint about a councillor is considered in the first instance to see if there can be an informal resolution or if there is a potential breach of the code.
“If a potential breach is identified then an investigation under Stage 2 of the complaints process is commissioned. Stage 2 investigations are reported to Ethics Committee, it is for Ethics Committee to decide if there has been a breach of the code.
“Any alleged breach of the code that does not proceed to Stage 2 of the complaints process is not published and the information remains confidential in line with case law and the data protection act.”
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