Bedford’s mayor has been asked if he will be telling his deputy not to be so “patronising” when answering questions from councillors
After yesterday’s full council meeting ended, Cllr James Weir (Conservative, Kempston Rural Ward) said: “I bit my tongue during the response to councillor Bywater’s question to the deputy mayor.”
Talking over shouts of “no” and the speaker saying the meeting is closed, he continued: “I was going to agree with the mayor’s statement earlier, and ask him to speak to his deputy to not be so patronising and aggressive in his answers to questions.”
During the meeting, there was a heated debate on the cost of living motion put forward by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups.
This led the mayor to comment: “I think to attack one’s policies is befitting of this chamber. I think to attack one’s personality is unbecoming to this chamber, and we should try not to do that.”
Councillor Weir’s statement was referring to an earlier part of the meeting when councillor Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle Ward) said the council missed out when it didn’t apply for some sustainable travel funding.
“The council applies so successfully for millions for changing road layouts repeatedly for local traffic,” she said.
“When it should be surely biding in line with its climate targets to really get the modal shift that we’ve so urgently need to enable people to find alternatives to the car wherever is possible.”
The deputy mayor, who is also the portfolio holder for environment, highways and transport, Cllr Charles Royden (LibDems, Brickhill Ward) replied: “Let’s not pretend that we do not invest massively to provide sustainable travel choices for our residents.
“We put in pavements, we’re putting in crossings, we put in cycle lanes, we improve the whole range of travel opportunities for people.
“It’s not just about making cars go faster, that’s utterly ridiculous,” he said. Councillor Royden continued to list many of the council’s sustainable travel projects.
“All this has been going on, you just haven’t been paying attention councillor,” he said.
Cllr Bywater said: “I have been paying attention, so I really resent the fact that I’m constantly insulted and you make it very personal, and you tell me I’m not making paying attention.
“That’s just not true, if you answer the question, I think we’ll get a little bit further,” she said.
“There’s no good in me answering the question, if you don’t listen,” councillor Royden replied.
“Investing in our roads, which includes, just so you understand, roads includes cycling and pedestrian use and it also includes bus travel, these are all sustainable choices.
“But please listen when I answer the question,” he said.
The local democracy reporting service emailed the mayor to ask if he would be talking to councillor Royden as councillor Weir asked.
A reply was sent from the Liberal Democrat Group.
Councillor McHugh, the Liberal Democrat Group Leader said “I have spoken to Councillor Royden. I, and my Group are clear, as I hope all councillors are, that all councillors should conduct themselves in a seemly manner.”
In a statement, councillor Bywater said: “Behaviour in the council chamber showing a lack of basic civility – that includes belittling other councillors, or name-calling when simply questioned or challenged – reflects poorly on the council as a whole.
“I think it sets a poor example and reduces people’s faith in local democracy. That has serious consequences as we see in national politics,” she said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter