In recent weeks it has been widely reported that Northumberland County Councillors have agreed to work on a cross-party basis to dig Northumberland County Council out of the position it’s in following the Max Caller review.
Leaders of the Labour Group have been committed to this and remain so but warn only behavioural change in the organisation can make this happen. As widely reported Caller pointed to toxicity between members and behaviours that we unacceptable, many members of all groups then spoke of the issues they had experienced at the hands of others.
Participating in the cross-party group the Labour Group Leaders regularly remind all of the issues raised over and over again by members and later clarified by Mr Caller. What it also reminds people is that lines can only be drawn and partnership work can only be achieved if Leaders of all groups stamp out the poor behaviour branded as toxic between members and officers. We cannot just suggest that a new top team can be installed and all will be well, clear behavioural change is needed. The Caller report was not just focused on Officers but unfortunately in political spin, the member issues and political issues have been lost.
Northumberland Labour spokesperson said: “All our members got into local politics to serve communities, not battle in school ground bullying nor accept intimidation as the norm. Residents of Northumberland deserve better than this and we have seen where this has led us.
While officers grab the headlines and release after release points to officers, critical parts of the report are going unreported, unnoticed and remain to be dealt with.
We reached a farcical position where members advocated the end of anonymous blogs which had members passionately speak about the impact on them and their families and their mental health. Later that day some members were “outed” as authors and admins of one of the most vicious sites and this cannot go on.”
As we move on in the coming weeks and try to attract new key officials that the Council needs we need to bear in mind the issues that need to be addressed by elected officials themselves before we reach a similar position in months to come. Officers are key to our success and treating them with professionalism and respect and understanding they are in A political position is critical.
We need confidence in officers, removal of open bias and cross-party appointments to these roles is fundamental to building trust. In recent years opposition leaders have been treated with respect, sat around cabinet tables, included in major briefings and information readily shared. Mr Caller talked of the “winner takes all” mentality which has shut out all other Groups from the Council and led to this festering position of distrust, maverick decision making, decisions made behind closed doors and decisions being taken in meetings classed as “informal” with no proper powers to do so. He talked about members not receiving the information they are entitled to and which resulted in the use of FOI’s and SAR requests this includes information opposition Councillors should be provided with and not resort to other mechanisms other than asking for it.
We are all up for the change that’s needed and get the Council back to the standards of pre-2017 but urge caution at any suggestion that officers alone and a new top team will solve all the problems without politicians recognising their part in the change that’s needed.
As recent as Wednesday we saw members break down in the Chamber when people referred to bullying, residents send their community champions to the Council to work for them not be broken in a toxic environment.