'Attack on democracy' call as Doncaster Council bosses want harsher powers to discipline councillors

A Doncaster councillor has taken issue with calls from officers who want the Government to hand them extra powers to suspend or even bar local politicians from elected office.

By George Torr
Monday, 24 June, 2019, 12:45
Civic Office, Doncaster Council

Town ward Labour councillor Tosh McDonald said the easiest way to get rid of a councillor was for constituents to vote them out - and added that the comments could be seen as 'an attack on democracy'.

Scott Fawcus, the council’s monitoring officer, said current powers available to him and others across the country to properly discipline members for breaching code of conduct regulations were currently ‘poor’.

Coun Tosh McDonald

He later clarified his comments and said any new powers would still be enacted through the proper committee process where councillors have the final say on any outcome.

Coun McDonald said: “I’d like to express some concern on this because elected councillors are already the easiest people to get rid of and that’s through the ballot box - the constituents decide if they want to get rid of us.

“I’m concerned from the things that have been said on appropriate sanctions being given to the monitoring officer such as powers of suspension of office through new legislation could be seen as an attack on democracy.

“If they acted illegally or acted in a bad way then there are processes that you can go through.

“For two people in the monitoring officer and the designated independent person to be able to give the power of suspension from office to any councillor seems to be like having a hammer to crack a nut.”

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In response, Mr Fawcus said if extra powers were given, a complaint would be discussed with the designated independent person to see if it needed investigating further.

He added any potential barring or suspension from public office would still have to be carried out via the audit and standards committee.

The last time the committee met, councillors found three members on Hatfield Town Council breached regulations after bullying the clerk when they tried to dismiss her without the power to do so.

Mr Fawcus added the only disciplinary ruling given to those members were extra training and for them to apologise - which he said they hadn’t as of yet.

“The Government back in 2011 took the view the ballot box would determine their fate and it has left this hole there for this serious behaviour which isn’t dealt with properly,” Mr Fawcus said.

“As the law changes, we will wait for Westminster to get around to that so it might not be any while yet but there will be lots of guidance around any new legislation.

“They’ll have to put back in an appeal process because for this committee there isn’t one but the sanctions available are pretty poor.”

Coun McDonald thanked Mr Fawcus for the clarification and added: “I do believe the part that worries me is suspension from office - it does leave open if people ask the wrong questions, people who we don’t agree with and I agree that it should be the electorate that makes that decision.”