Comment on sexual harassment and Fife Council

“This week’s allegations against Alex Rowley have highlighted that sexual harassment is not a problem confined to politicians at Westminster or Holyrood. It arises with politicians at all levels, including local government.

Some of the misconduct Alex Rowley stands accused of allegedly took place while he was a Fife Councillor, and in fact Leader of Fife Council. That gives considerable pause for thought.

In my short time as a Councillor, I have witnessed casual misogyny from elected members at Fife Council; before I was a Councillor I saw male Councillors routinely bully and abuse residents online.

It turned out nothing could be done about such behaviour. Complaints to the relevant party leader were brushed aside, and the Councillors Code of Conduct proved toothless as did the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life.

In July of this year, the Fawcett Society’s Local Government Commission which looked at women councillors’ experience in England and Wales found that 44% of Labour, 33% of Conservative and 29% of Liberal Democrat women councillors had experienced sexist comments from colleagues in their own party. The figures for those who said they had experienced sexual harassment were 11% for Labour, 9% for Conservative women councillors and 6% of Liberal Democrats.

Ruth Davidson warned this week: “We cannot be complacent. Our politics will be deeply diminished if young people are deterred from getting involved because of fear of harassment. Collectively, politics needs to get its house in order and make it clear that we do not accept the abuse of power in any way, shape or form.”

Fife Council needs to play its part. So I am calling on the administration’s leaders to set up a working group to develop an independent grievance procedure to guarantee that any complaint of sexual harassment and bullying relating to councillors will be handled properly – and commensurate action will be taken.

Party leaders in Fife also need to make sure they have robust procedures in place to deal with complaints which are in line with the review of internal procedures being carried by their national parties at Holyrood and Westminster.

Fife Council needs to make clear in their codes of conduct that councillor behaviour is governed by the prohibition on sex discrimination in the Equality Act 2010. Codes of conduct should include a requirement for councillors to promote equality in their actions and behaviour.

With clear standards in place, Fife Council should provide elected members with appropriate training to tackle discrimination, and enable transparency through publishing audio recordings of Council and committee meetings in order to monitor behaviour.”

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