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Councillors Failing to Follow Social Media Guidance Is the Cause of Most Complaints

Published on: 25 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 26 Mar, 2022

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Some Guildford councillors are not sticking to the authority’s social media guidance leading to “inflammatory language” being used and complaints against them, a council has heard.

Outlining the 14 complaints against councillors in the year to December 2021, council officers said a common theme was use of social media and advised councillors to treat posts on social media “in exactly the same way as they would a public speech or an article for publication”.

Cllr George Potter, committee chair

At GBC’s Corporate Governance and Standards Committee meeting on Thursday (March 24), councillors heard that all complaints in this period were against borough councillors, none were against parish councillors, and that none proceeded to investigation although six were ongoing.

Five complaints were subject to informal resolution. Most of these were the recommendation of an apology to the party concerned and one resulted in the councillor being directed to change their approach to their use of social media.

The borough council adopted social media guidance in 2020 which forms part of the councillors’ code of conduct.

Cllr Tim Anderson

Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley) said he was chairman of the committee when the code of conduct was drawn up and that a lot of attention was given to the use of social media saying they “agonised over the wording”.

He added: “It is disappointing that, despite our best efforts, this is the main cause of grief in terms of complaints.

“We did our best and it’s disappointing that it hasn’t done the job.”

Cllr Ian Symes

Committee member Ian Symes, chairman of Effingham Parish Council, asked at the meeting about the fact there were no complaints against parish councillors in 2021, compared to eight in 2020.

Meeting chair George Potter (Liberal Democrat, Merrow) said he believed there had been contention in the filling of a vacancy on Ash Parish Council in 2020 leading to several complaints against councillors and a “sudden spike” in the numbers.

See: Residents’ Rebellion Against All-Tory Ash Parish Council Rumbles On

They were told by officers that prior to the 2011 Localism Act, which made it the law for all councils to draw up their own code of conduct, most complaints that came in were about “naughty parish councillors” but that seemed to have “flipped to the other side now”.

Parish councillor Julia Osborn, of Send Parish Council, said it was “disappointing” there were comments regarding social media when there was specific guidance in place for that.

She said: “Hopefully it’s the case that this is a relatively new policy. It might just be it’s taking time for councillors to read [and] to actually engage with the new policy.”

See also: ‘Strong Argument’ for Publishing Outcomes of Complaints Against GBC Councillors, Says Committee Chair

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Responses to Councillors Failing to Follow Social Media Guidance Is the Cause of Most Complaints

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    March 26, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    Interesting that the Lib Dem party consider George Potter to be a fit chairman of Corporate Governance and Standards Committee.

    Isn’t this the same George Potter who waited to be ordered to apologise to Julie Isles following public communications.

    Editor’s note: Committee appointments are agreed by the full council.

  2. Stuart Taylor Reply

    March 26, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    Perhaps, because there is a specific social media policy, it’s easier for the public to find what is expected and identity potential breaches (and then complain about them)?

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