Following some incidents of unacceptable behaviour from a small number of members of the public towards officers of Knowsley Council, a new ‘Escalation Policy’ was agreed at a meeting of Council on Wednesday, 20 September.
Some reports have insinuated this will somehow affect the rights of people to speak out on issues that concern them. The council is stressing that this is not the case. The policy has been put in place to deal with a small number of individuals who are intent on persistently disrupting the fair and democratic process that the vast majority of us respect. In fact, it protects the right of all residents, regardless of their views, to participate in council meetings and decision making without fear of intimidation or confrontation.
For the record – this is what the Escalation Policy is all about:
The Escalation Policy outlines the council’s approach to dealing with unacceptable behaviour by customers and visitors to Council meetings and premises – you can read it in full on the council’s website.
Whilst there have long been Codes of Conduct for elected members and officers of the council, a formal policy was not in place to set out the expected behaviour of members of the public. Because of a number of incidents at recent council meetings and other events which have caused disruption to proceedings, it was agreed that this was now needed.
The resulting Escalation Policy sets out examples of the type of behaviour which would require the council to take further action, and sets out what action this will be.
It specifically aims to prevent the type of disruptive, intimidating and unacceptable behaviour of a small minority of individuals in recent months.
Recent unacceptable behaviour has included:
- Council officers and councillors being followed, approached and challenged when they are away from council buildings and going about their personal business.
- Council officers being video recorded without their consent whilst going about their personal business with the footage then being uploaded to social media channels.
- Council officers being followed to their cars and intimidated when they are leaving council buildings late at night.
- Numerous challenging telephone calls to both senior and junior council officers which have left some of the recipients of those calls in tears.
- Efforts being made to obtain the home addresses of several council officers, with some officers then being written to at their home addresses.
- Ignoring and consistently challenging reasonable requests made by council officers.
- Forcing entry to council premises despite having already been clearly advised that entry was not permitted and that the individuals would be trespassing if they did so.
- Interfering with council business, for example by blocking access to private areas of the building and by preventing other members of the public from accessing the council building.
- Filming and/or voice recording councillors, officers and members of the public on council premises despite having been told that this was not permitted and refusing to stop when requested to do so.
- Subsequently publishing such recordings on social media platforms, often after it has been edited with a view to presenting a particular argument and so not providing the full context of such events.
- Using abusive and/or threatening language to council officers and/or the council’s representatives.
- Disrupting meetings by shouting, blowing whistles etc.
Peaceful protest or disagreement will not be prevented
First and foremost, the council fully accepts that individuals have a right to disagree with its decisions and indeed have a right to protest about issues which concern them.
It is clear that the vast majority of people who contact or become involved with the council behave in a perfectly reasonable way.
The Escalation Policy is designed to address the extreme behaviour of a small number of individuals, who have behaved unreasonably on repeated occasions. The overwhelming majority of people who engage with the council will have no reason ever to be concerned about the existence of the policy. However, it has had to be introduced because the council takes its responsibility for the health and safety of its workforce very seriously.
For the vast majority of you who contact the council, use council buildings or attend meetings the policy protects your right to do so without fear of intimidation or confrontation – which is a good thing for all of us.
The council hopes that the provisions of the policy will not have to be used. However, it may come into effect where previous attempts to address unreasonable behaviour have been unsuccessful.
Allowing council business to be conducted in a safe and respectful manner
Cllr Andy Moorhead, Leader of Knowsley Council, said:
“The council has a responsibility for the health and safety of all those who provide and use its services, and wants to ensure that its business may be conducted in a safe and respectful environment.
“The vast majority of visitors and residents who attend Council premises behave in a reasonable manner and treat Council officers and elected members with respect.
“Unfortunately, a small minority seem to believe that they should be allowed to behave in a totally unacceptable way. The council disagrees.
“There have been many examples of staff feeling intimidated and upset due to their behaviour. We have had to endure people coming to meetings and events blowing whistles and shouting to disrupt proceedings, as well as abusive behaviour in person and on the phone. We have had council officers and elected members followed after meetings. We cannot allow this to continue and it’s a sad that we have had to do this for the first time in the council’s 40-year history.
“The council makes no apology for introducing this new policy, as we feel that it is necessary. In simple terms if people behave reasonably the policy will never have to be used.”