By Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis: The leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council mocked the concerns of a member of the public who addressed a council meeting.
Council leader Kevin Guy (pictured) has apologised for his comments, which were branded “demeaning insulting remarks” by the Conservative opposition leader Vic Pritchard.
The comments, made to other Liberal Democrat council cabinet members, went largely unheard in Bath Guildhall’s council chamber but were picked up by a microphone and heard on the live webcast of the council meeting.
Louisa McFarland was one of seven people who addressed the full session of the council on February 21 during a section of the meeting set aside for statements from members of the public.
She criticised the council’s abandoned plan to turn the former golf course on the old landfill at Entry Hill into a bike park, raising concerns about pollution from the site affecting people who live nearby if a bike park led to contaminated soil being disturbed.
She said: “I would like the council to test the water in the Lyn Brook for the contaminants […]. Plus I would like their assurance that all the necessary mitigating measures will be carried out prior to any development taking place on this site — all with complete transparency.”
Directly after Ms McFarland spoke, there was an opportunity for leaders of each of the council’s party groups to ask her factual questions, which Mr Guy used to highlight that Ms McFarland was a council candidate.
He told the council: “I have no factual questions for the Tory candidate for Widcombe and Lyncombe.”
Leader of the Labour Party group Robin Moss also had no factual questions, but added: “You’d never guess there’s an election in May, would you?”
At a quiet moment in the meeting later, Mr Guy was joked about Ms McFarland’s statement to a cabinet colleague, saying: “Perhaps we should build an abattoir on there.”
Another voice can be heard saying: “Miserable.”
Many in the Guildhall were not immediately aware of what had been said, but the quiet comments were picked up by a live microphone and heard clearly on the live webcast of the meeting.
Mr Pritchard attempted to raise a point of order to ask Mr Guy to apologise for the comments when he was made aware of them, but he was told by Chair of the Council Shaun Stephenson-McGall that there was no mechanism to ask for an apology during the meeting.
Mr Pritchard began: “I understand councillor Guy was heard on the broadcast making demeaning insulting remarks about a public speaker, Louise McFarlane —”
But was cut off by Mr Stephenson-McGall who said: “That isn’t a point of order.”
Mr Pritchard responded: “So there can be no reprimand for bad conduct? Is that what you are telling me?”
Mr Guy did apologise later in the meeting, during a section for statements from councillors. He said: “I made a private comment to Councillor Warren. I fully apologise for that […] I would happily speak to the individual and apologise in person to them for my comment.”
He added on Twitter: “I made a comment to a colleague which I shouldn’t have at tonight’s meeting, and I apologise unreservedly. I will reach out to the person speaking at the time, and offer my apologies.
“No excuses, no wasting of councils resource on an investigation. I’m sorry.”
In another apology the next day, he said: “I apologised last night for my comment I made during the brief recess. It was said to a colleague during a break as an off the cuff attempt at humour. I fully intend to talk to the Conservative Party Candidate who had just spoken, and apologise directly.”
The council’s budget for the 2023/24 financial year was approved by the Liberal Democrat majority council at the meeting, despite opposition from the other political groups.
It is the last budget of the current council term, with local elections for Bath and North East Somerset Council coming up on May 4.
For the first time, voters will need to show photo ID at the polling booth in order to vote. If you do not have a valid form of photo ID, you can get a Voter Authority Certificate here: https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-photo-id-voter-authority-certificate
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