Promotion of equality & respect
CODE - No Evidence of Breach
Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Member (“the Member”) of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (“the Authority”) had breached the Authority’s Code of Conduct (“the Code”). It was alleged that during 2 specific Authority meetings, the Member failed to treat a member of staff, an officer of the Authority, with respect and used bullying behaviour towards her.
The Ombudsman’s investigation considered whether the Member’s conduct may have breached paragraphs 4(b), 4(c) and 6(1)(a) of the Code. Information was obtained from the Authority, including relevant correspondence and emails. A video recording and transcript of a relevant meeting was obtained. Witness information was also obtained.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that, with regard to the first Authority meeting, the Member was frustrated with the way in which the meeting was administered. The Member engaged in a robust discussion and voiced his concerns about the meeting’s administration. The Ombudsman found that such criticism of ideas and opinions is considered part of democratic debate. The Member’s comments were political in nature and therefore attracted enhanced protection under the ECHR. The Ombudsman acknowledged that the member of staff may have been upset at the criticism of the way in which the meeting had been handled, but the Ombudsman did not consider there was evidence that the Member’s comments were personally or gratuitously offensive. The Ombudsman found on the basis of the evidence and, in particular, the video recording of the first meeting, that the Member was not particularly forceful or aggressive, although it is clear he was frustrated. The Ombudsman did not consider that the Member’s comments were sufficiently offensive, intimidating or insulting to amount to bullying or disrespectful behaviour within the meaning of the Code. As a result, the Ombudsman was not persuaded that there was evidence to suggest a breach of paragraphs 4(b) or 4(c) of the Code.
In relation to the second meeting, the Ombudsman’s investigation found that there was a disagreement between the Member and the member of staff about the working arrangements and governance in the Authority. The Ombudsman found, on the basis of the evidence, that the Member’s comments during the second meeting were political comments about the Authority’s policies and administration. The Ombudsman found that the Member’s comments fell within the realms of freedom of expression and were not sufficiently offensive, intimidating or insulting to amount to bullying or disrespectful behaviour within the meaning of the Code. As a result, the Ombudsman was not persuaded that there was evidence to suggest a breach of paragraphs 4(b) or 4(c) of the Code.
The Ombudsman found that, in view of her findings above, there was also no evidence to suggest the Member had brought his office as Member or his Authority into disrepute.
The Ombudsman found that under Section 69(4)(a) of the Local Government Act 2000, there was no evidence of any failure to comply with the Code.