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16 July 2014, 08:33
An internal review by the Liberal Democrats into the party in Portsmouth has found members were aggressive to get what they wanted.
The report calls for an end to shouting, slamming tables and storming out of meetings by members, to get their way - and recommends a special session is held with an outside expert to improve things.
The report also says more women and people from ethnic minorities should be encouraged to join the party in the city.
The Lib Dem group says it acknowledges there are things to 'learn from', and is happy to accept all recommendations.
Kath Pinnock's report is as follows:
Review of Portsmouth Liberal Democrat Group post 2014 local elections
To discuss with Portsmouth Liberal Democrat councillors issues relating to the local elections in May 2014. This work was jointly commissioned by the LGA through its Change of Control programme and ALDC. A separate specific complaint of bullying is being looked at by the Regional Parties Committee. My role was to look at the Council Group in a wider context.
"Under Chatham House rules, I spoke with 18 of the 19 Liberal Democrat councillors; 4 former Liberal Democrat councillors; and 6 local candidates and activists. The meetings were a mixture of small groups and individual sessions depending on the wishes of the participants. All the sessions lasted for a minimum of 30 minutes and several lasted more than 1 hour. A few were not available and I spoke with them by phone.
"The sessions occurred between Saturday 28 June and Tuesday 1 July and a follow up sessions by phone on in the following days for those who were not able to attend in person.
"Every individual was able to let me have their thoughts in their own way. I interjected on occasions for clarity. I provided a confidential feedback session on the evening of Tuesday 1 July."
Conclusions and Recommendations
"All those who spoke to me reflected concerns about the tone in which Group meetings were conducted. There was unanimity among councillors that they were able to have their say and that policy decisions were made democratically.
"However, there was unease expressed at the way some individuals, and not only men, on occasions, used raised voices, speaking over others, slamming the table, and storming out of meetings to get their way.
"The consequence was that some councillors felt very uncomfortable when this happened in Group Meetings and the aggressive atmosphere may have something to do with the gender imbalance in the Group and the council as a whole."
1. The Council Group run a session, preferably with an external facilitator, to agree behaviours in Group meetings which are acceptable to all.
2. The Group further discuss how best to support the Chair in challenging behaviours which are outside of the acceptable.
3. The Group and Local Party renews its efforts to encourage more women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds to be selected as candidates and elected as councillors.
"Several references were made to attendance at Group Meetings and Group Away Days. It was said that those who might benefit most from these sessions were those who failed to attend. Meetings and Away Days if properly focussed can be a cohesive force for good. Many other Liberal Democrat Groups appoint a Group Business Manager or /and Whip to help keep councillors fully engaged with Group matters. This can aid early understanding of individual complaints which can be dealt with then at an informal stage."
4. The Council Group considers appointing a Group Business Manager or Group Whip and discusses with the Chief Executive how this post may aid cross party relationships to the benefit of the Council as a whole.
"Some councillors expressed frustration that their particular talents and experiences were not being used to best effect. Newly elected councillors explained the difficulties in learning the role."
5. The Council Group considers appointing mentors from within the Group for new councillors and thinks about doing a skills audit to enable all councillors in the Group to understand the talents and experiences of their colleagues.
"Politics in Portsmouth appears to be dominated by attacks on personalities rather than debate on policy decisions. Some of these attacks have become particularly unpleasant with uncorroborated assertions of, for instance, corruption being levied at councillors without them having any apparent recourse to retraction and apology. I am surprised that the Council's Chief Executive and Solicitor have not been involved in seeking to protect the good name of the Council when these allegations are being made against councillors in their Council role.
"A separate formal complaint is being determined by the Regional Parties Committee and forms no part of my remit. However, I spoke with 18/19 of the current councillors and four former councillors and all said individually they have not been bullied nor have they perceived bullying by others within the group. I particularly asked every female councillor about bullying in the Group and all believed there was none. I also asked each female councillor if they felt that they had been overlooked for posts of responsibility in the Council, especially on the Cabinet, and all said they felt they had been provided with opportunities for such posts but not all wanted to take them up."
6. The Council as a whole has an opportunity to reflect on behaviours by all councillors and how business is conducted and seeks to establish protocols to ensure that debate can be carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Recommendation to LGA
7. To consider a review of the support provided to councillors in their Council role when faced by public allegations which are not corroborated and to draw up advice for Council Chief Executives and Solicitors in supporting councillors facing such attacks in order to protect the good name of the Council.
In a statement, Matthew Winnington, Chair of the Liberal Democrat group on Portsmouth City Council, said:
"Portsmouth Liberal Democrats welcome the publication of Kath Pinnock's report and are happy to accept all recommendations made and look forward to improving the way the group operates and works with the party and wider community.
"There are clearly things we need to learn from and how things can work better for the future.
"The Liberal Democrats in Portsmouth will continue to work hard for the city and local people."