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Tougher measures demanded to punish councillor's bad behaviour

THE leaders of Middlesbrough Council are demanding much tougher measures to make bad behaviour by elected councillors more seriously punishable.

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston and Deputy Mayor Antony High are backing national recommendations to raise standards in public life by giving more powers to local authorities to tackle the issue.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life identifies areas of concern noting a minority of councillors who engage in bullying or harassment or other highly disruptive behaviour.

The current standards measures have been described as a "toothless tiger".

Mr Preston said: "I'd go even further and say that it's not even a toothless tiger, it's a massive waste of time and money. This is something myself and Antony feel really strongly about.

"The current system is way too soft and what some politicians get away with is a disgrace. If a councillor or mayor behaves badly all that happens is they're asked to apologise - but they don't have to.

"In the real world if you behave badly at work you'll probably end up sacked - out on your ear. Politicians should face the same consequences as the public and we should expect the very highest standards. Along with Antony High and some others I'd like to see us have the power to sack politicians whose morals and standards damage Middlesbrough."

The Committee on Standards in Public Life Review on Local Government Ethical Standards, which Middlesbrough Council made submissions to, was issued earlier this year.

Among its recommendations are to give local authorities the power to suspend councillors and within an authority employment protections extended.

Cllr High added: "We back the recommendations of the report but in the meantime we want to give an absolute guarantee to the public that we will do everything in our power to make sure they see the highest of standards from those they elect.

"We will expose it, condemn it and if needs be involve any other agency including Cleveland Police in order to fight it - without fear or favour.

"To be absolutely clear this is not about politicians fighting and arguing amongst themselves, it is about setting a standard for ethics and behaviour because when those who are elected fall below expectations it does have a negative impact on all members of the community, including the most vulnerable, who should be protected."

On the back of the report Suki Binjal, President of Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), said: "The current regime with its lack of sanctions has been a toothless tiger.

"For too long, unacceptable standards of behaviour from a thankfully small number of councillors has had a negative impact on decision making, committee cohesiveness and culture.

"The long-awaited recommendation for a power to suspend is warmly welcomed by LLG as a first step; as is the recognition of the need for increased statutory protection for Monitoring Officers as the lynchpins of the standards regime.