Rushcliffe Borough Council full meeting sees blue turn on blue in interests of Bingham Town Council
To quote Macbeth, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
These were the words of a borough councillor directed at a Conservative-led town council during a debate on whether the authority should be dissolved.
It follows proven allegations of harassment of a town clerk.
Blue turned on blue at a full meeting of Rushcliffe Borough Council where a succession of members from all political persuasions decided there was a threat to democracy should Bingham Town Council be allowed to continue to operate unchecked.
The full council had before it a petition signed by 10% of Bingham's electorate which called for the dissolution of the town council, and for Rushcliffe to take on governance of the town — something which has never happened nationally.
The dissolution would have allowed free and fair elections to take place.
While the borough's legal advice was that it could not legally take such a step under the Local Government Act 2007, the Conservative leader of the borough council Simon Robinson brought forward a recommendation that his authority impose an improvement board at the Tory-led Bingham Town Council — similar to the action taken by central government on Nottingham City Council.
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," said Liberal Democrat Rod Jones. "No council is perfect but I strongly criticise this council for its massive ongoing failures.
"Having heard the allegations, it is clear the town council needs a serious reset. It is clear the findings of the standards committee have not been implemented.
"It makes me wonder whether wholesale resignations are in order because it is in Bingham's interest that a new wave of vigorously community-minded residents stand for election and refresh the town council."
Labour councillor Mike Gaunt said Bingham was an example of a lower tier authority at its worst.
"An elite clique of small-minded individuals have been accused of bullying public servants and repeatedly carrying out important decisions behind closed doors," he said.
"They have acted with impunity and disrespect for the community and residents they are meant to represent."
A petition was put together by the Bingham Deserves Better group, who had become incensed by the way in which the town council was and is being controlled.
An independent barrister was instructed by Rushcliffe to investigate allegations of bullying by Tory councillors current deputy town mayor Francis Purdue-Horan and John Stockwood, who was mayor at the time, against the town clerk Sharon Pyke.
The barrister found there was proof both men harassed and created an oppressive work environment for her. The local Conservative association took the step of suspending both men's membership of the Tory Party.
The recommendation of the borough to Messrs Purdue-Horan and Stockwood was to apologise to Mrs Pyke and reflect on their appropriateness to be members of the town council's overarching human resources committee.
Mr Gaunt went on: "There is no sign that that has actually happened. Not only do they think it's appropriate for them to behave like they do, but to actually vote themselves as heads of that committee is just shocking.
"We need to ensure this improvement board isn't going to involve anyone involved in those shenanigans."
Green member Richard Mallender added his condemnation: "I think there is something rotten happening at in Bingham Town Council, and that clearly needs to be addressed.
"Bingham can find a better way forward together for all the community, not just for soul-selected few."
Conservative Neil Clarke said the Bingham situation undoubtedly had an reputational impact on both the town and borough councils.
Leader Mr Robinson said he would also write to the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to request action be taken on legislation to allow upper tier councils to take control of problem lower tier authorities.
"This is a message to Bingham Town Council, to both officers and elected members, listen and take on board this petition and the comments that support it — this is nearly 10% of your population giving you a very clear message," said Mr Robinson.
"You need to open your hearts to ensure this never happens again because at the moment it is being sold short."
Penny Gowland of Labour added: "I strongly believe in local democracy and we don't need any more behaviour that brings politics into disrepute, with elected politicians marking their own homework.
"I'd ask the leader of the council to consider writing to the Secretary of State to consider changing the law on this matter. 10% signed this petition — if that was an MP, they would be recalled.
"It would be better if we could actually get this (town) council recalled."
As borough councillors, Messrs Purdue-Horan and Stockwood were present at the full council meeting. They both declared an interest in the discussion and left the room.
Bingham and Rushcliffe councillor Maureen Stockwood, who is also John Stockwood's mother and Mr Purdue-Horan's partner, declared an interest and was present during the discussion but did not take part in the debate.
The improvement board was unanimously approved by the full council, which will meet again in December to discuss its progress.