Bickering Edinburgh council members warned over ‘inappropriate language and tone’

Councillors have been warned to stop bickering and using ‘inappropriate language and tone’ during debates by government watchdogs.

By Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 26th November 2020, 6:07 pm
Councillor Lesley Macinnes
Councillor Lesley Macinnes

Audit Scotland’s Accounts Commission recently produced a report on Edinburgh City Council, in which the commission praised the local authority in some areas, but also said the council ‘could do more to improve the city and the lives of local people’.

One area of concern for the commission was the behaviour of elected officials during council debates.

The report states that “there are tensions between elected members, which manifest in inappropriate language and tone being used in council debate, in the lack of involvement of some members in decision-making, and in media reports on member disagreements.”

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The Accounts Commission interviewed several councillors as part of its investigation, and concluded that the political make up of the council, a minority SNP/Labour coalition, can make the decision making process more difficult.

The report continues: “Our interviews with a sample of members and observations of council meetings suggest that the above actions have made little difference and relationships between some members are still very strained.

“While political debate is a normal part of council business, operating within this environment is challenging for members and officers.

“Although council business proceeds, it is more difficult to make decisions. The minority administration must work with other political parties to gain support on each individual policy or issue.

“This means that officers often spend a lot of time preparing tailored briefings for different political groups, to help elected members reach agreement.

“It is important, particularly given the council’s political composition, that all elected members work well together in order to make decisions.”

Liberton and Gilmerton councillor, and depute leader of the SNP council group, Lesley Macinnes, said: “We’ve become increasingly dismayed, over the course of this administration, by the tone, choice of language and overly personal attacks that have progressively seeped into council politics, both in formal committee settings and in the media.

“We have consistently tried to address it and rise above it but this coarsening of debate and relationships by a minority of councillors and their failure to forge relationships is undoubtedly damaging to our ability to deliver for the residents we all serve.

“Most worryingly, this type of behaviour has also been increasingly directed at professional council officers, who are not able to respond.

“Scrutiny and challenge is the lifeblood of politics at every level and we welcome rigorous debate on the important issues of how our capital moves forward.

“Indeed, as a minority administration we find that scrutiny useful in shaping and delivering our policies.

“Unfortunately though, too often constructive debate has been replaced with disrespectful, aggressive or unfounded comments that fails to meet acceptable standards of public service.”

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