The Labour-controlled Penarth Town Council last night abruptly “suspended” a scheduled discussion on the draft of the council’s controversial new “POLICY ON THE MANAGEMENT OF UNREASONABLE AND VIOLENT CUSTOMER BEHAVIOUR”.
The new draft policy [ see PDN report http://tinyurl.com/y856ox4wis%5D is – in effect – a rule book for Penarth residents – who are described throughout as “customers”.
The document “sets out what standards of behaviour are expected of customers and the general public when dealing with council staff” – and warns local residents, voters and council-tax payers exactly how they “will be dealt with if they do not adhere to this standard”.
The rule-book sets out no fewer than 19 separate categories of what the council defines as “unreasonable behaviour” by members of the public. These include:-
- Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff by excessive and lengthy phone calls, emails and letters – or detailed letters every few days and expecting immediate responses
- Repeated and excessive pursuit of a complaint or issue which appears to have no substance or is outside the remit of the council
- Contact which may be amiable but which places heavy demands on staff time or may be very emotionally charged and distressing for all involved
- Escalation of unacceptable abusive aggressive or threatening behaviour
- Changing the basis of the complaints whilst under investigation
- Denying or changing statements made at an earlier stage
- Refusing to accept the decision / Introducing irrelevant or trial issues
- Providing misleading or false information or documents or adopting false identities
- Refusing to accept the decision with no new evidence
- Persistently approaching the council through different routes or getting others to do so about the same issue
- Escalating a complaint to a more senior officer after the receipt of a response with which they disagree
Although the document is still in draft form [it was actually written in July] it appears already to have been implemented.
On September 1st 2 police vans turned up at the Paget Rooms at the behest of council staff to remove local resident and Pier Pavilion campaigner Ms Nicki Page. Ms Page was attending a concert with friends to mark her birthday and had purchased tickets for the event. The 4 police officers attending the scene decided that no offences had been committed, no arrests were made and no charges were brought.
When details of Penarth Council’s draft document/rule-book were made public by PDN two days ago there was considerable public reaction – which was almost overwhelmingly negative. Amongst comments made by PDN commentators were the following remarks:-
- “What an overreaction! Common sense seems to have flown out of the window”
- “It’s bullying and its draconian”
- “So over the top. Who do they think they are?”
- “I would urge the council to think of residents as citizens, not customers”
- “Kim Jong will be very impressed !”
- “What I notice about all this is that there is nothing to say how we will be treated in return.”
- “They seem to forget they are ‘public servants’ which means they serve the public , they are servants of the people not their masters”
- “We are dealing with delusional people that have a high opinion of their worth and power.”
- “Who do you all think you are at Penarth Council? You work for all the people of Penarth, not yourselves”
Last night councillors who belong to Penarth Town Council’s policy committee had been scheduled to discuss the draft document in detail – but at the last moment this discussion was abruptly “suspended”.
The Leader of the council, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines), said “I’m going to suggest we suspend discussion of this.”.
In the absence of the Town Clerk Emma Boylan – who was indisposed – Cllr Cuddy told the Deputy Town Clerk he would not be asking him to read out the Town Clerk’s report [which had accompanied the ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ policy document on the committee’s agenda].
Cllr Cuddy said “We would like to affirm that we fully support the [council] staff in their day-to-day tasks . It was the Public Service Ombudsman who said that ‘councillors should have ‘thick skins’ – but that doesn’t apply to council staff , who should be treated as a normal member of the community in their role and shouldn’t expect to be abused – and we fully support them”
Cllr Cuddy went on to say “Obviously we should have a policy. This [ i.e the draft document] may be too extensive or needs to be topped-and-tailed and reviewed collectively ” . He suggested that to take on that task a so-called “task and finish group” should be set up.
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) – who invariably follows the Labour line in council meetings – said he “fully supported” what Cllr Cuddy had said and added “We need to make sure staff feel comfortable at work and are not harassed in any way – unnecessarily so . We do need to have this policy . We do need to be careful we are supporting and protecting our staff”.
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) proposed that the composition of the “task-and-finish group” should consist of 6 members – comprising 4 Labour councillors and 2 from “the other side” [ i.e. the Conservatives] . He suggested that – because of his expertise in events management – Councillor Ben Gray could be one of the Conservative members
Cllr Martin Turner – who is the leader of the Conservative group on Penarth Town Council will sit on the task and finish group – but made the counter-nomination of Cllr Gary Allman (Conservative St Augustines) to join him on the group as he has similar expertise. Cllr Turner said Cllr Gray was tied up on other matters.
Cllr Cuddy proposed that the Town Clerk, Emma Boylan, should also be involved.
After the task and finish group has revised the policy draft, it will go the council’s Human Resources Committee – the meetings of which are not open to the press.