Thursday, October 18, 2012

Councillor guilty of bullying female colleague

Councillor guilty of bullying female colleague
Last updated at 15:41, Monday, 15 October 2012
THE political career of a leading Tynedale councillor appears in ruins after he humiliated and intimidated a female colleague.
Bullying victim: Anne Dale  was the target of an unreasonable and unjustified personal attack by Ian Hutchinson (right).
A council watchdog found the behaviour of Coun. Ian Hutchinson, who represents Haltwhistle on Northumberland County Council, towards fellow Tory councillor Anne Dale, from Stocksfield, amounted to bullying.
Coun. Hutchinson has now resigned as chairman of the council’s west area planning committee – but only after hearing that the council’s standards committee had recommended he be sacked and retrained.
Members of the public and council officers were shocked when Coun. Hutchinson repeatedly shouted Mrs Dale down at a planning committee meeting in June last year.
She was visibly confused and upset, and took no part in further debates at the meeting.
In a damning verdict, an all-party council standards committee found that Coun. Hutchinson had raised his voice in an aggressive and intimidatory manner, with the intention of demeaning Coun. Mrs Dale when she tried to ask questions on two planning applications.
The report said: “Coun. Hutchinson’s behaviour towards Coun. Mrs Dale at the meeting on June 15 was an unreasonable and excessive personal attack on her, for which he had no justification and which went beyond the concept of firm chairing.
“The attack was carried out in a public meeting when members would be expected to be acutely aware of the need for them to behave responsibly and respectfully.
“Coun. Hutchinson demonstrated a lack of respect not only in the relation to the content of his exchanges with Coun. Mrs Dale but also in relation to the tone and volume of his voice, which was aggressive and too loud to be justifiable in the prevailing circumstances.”
The committee also found that Coun. Hutchinson had behaved unreasonably by losing his temper and shouting at Mrs Dale at a planning site investigation in 2009.
He compounded his poor behaviour by sending an email to a council officer containing a further “unreasonable and personal attack” on Mrs Dale.
The committee found there was nothing in the way that Mrs Dale conducted herself at the meeting that justified Coun. Hutchinson’s treatment of her.
The committee recommended that Coun. Hutchinson be removed from the chairmanship of the west area planning committee for the remainder of the council’s term of office, which ends next April.
However, on Wednesday, Coun. Hutchinson jumped before he was pushed by resigning as committee chairman.
Ironically, the ramifications of the row could have been kept out of the public eye, as Mrs Dale originally only complained to the Conservative group.
However, while accepting that Coun. Hutchinson had been “too robust” at the June planning committee, the group found there was no evidence of persistent bullying or intimidation.
Conservative group leader Coun. Peter Jackson ruled no further action should be taken – and only then did Mrs Dale decided to take the matter to the council’s own watchdog, the standards committee.
The standards hearing was the latest stage of a damaging rift between Mrs Dale and the Hexham Constituency Conservative Association.
Last year, she was dropped as a potential candidate by the Tories for next year’s county elections – despite the fact she has the biggest majority of any councillor in the district.
Although she refuses to publicly commit herself, it is thought likely she will stand as an independent against the official Tory candidate – and her huge personal vote could well see her win the seat.
Mrs Dale has always been seen as one of the more industrious Tory councillors, both on the former Tynedale Council – to which she was elected in 1995 – and on the unitary county council, of which she was a founder member.
She said this week that was “saddened” that the complaint had not been settled within the Tory group.
In a statement afterwards, she said: “Coun. Hutchinson treated me in an unacceptable manner in a public forum.
“I welcome the findings and the thoroughness and impartiality in which this matter has been dealt with.
“I will always work for and support the rights of the electorate.
A statement on behalf of the Conservative group said Coun. Hutchinson had decided to resign as chairman of the west planning committee, as he felt continuing in the role of chairman would distract from the important work of the committee.
The statement went on: “This unfortunate issue has been the result of a long running dispute between two individuals.
“It has been dealt with by cross-party committee and is not a party political matter.
“Coun. Hutchinson and Mrs Dale remain Conservative councillors and will continue their important work in support of constituents.”
Coun. Hutchinson himself declined to comment, other than to say: “I cannot believe the committee’s verdict.”
First published at 09:09, Monday, 15 October 2012
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Northumberland County Councillor found guilty of bullying colleague

Councillor Anne Dale and Councillor Ian Hutchinson (inset)
A SENIOR Conservative councillor has been found guilty of bullying a female party colleague and launching an “unreasonable and excessive personal” attack on her at a public meeting.
A formal investigation has concluded that Coun Ian Hutchinson breached Northumberland County Council’s code of conduct in his behaviour towards Coun Anne Dale.
His actions included losing his temper and shouting at her, acting in an aggressive and intimidatory manner towards her and failing to treat her with respect.
The inquiry also found Coun Hutchinson tried to demean Coun Dale in front of everyone at a meeting, and showed a lack of restraint in sending an “irresponsible” email to a council officer which underlined his attitude to her generally.
The council’s standards committee has ruled that Coun Hutchinson bullied Coun Dale at a planning meeting in June last year.
It concluded that he made an unreasonable and excessive personal attack on her, for which he had no justification and which went beyond the concept of firm chairing.
It described his behaviour as offensive, intimidating and humiliating, leaving her feeling shocked and confused, and as likely to be detrimental to her confidence, especially as members of the public were present.
The standards committee has recommended to the council that Coun Hutchinson should be stripped of his position as chairman of the west area planning committee, until the next elections in May 2013, as punishment. It also recommends he be given appropriate training.
Yesterday Coun Hutchinson, who represents Haltwhistle, said he was resigning as chairman of the planning committee with immediate effect. Coun Dale, who represents the Stocksfield and Broomhaugh ward, has not been selected by the Conservatives as a candidate for next year’s council elections.
Yesterday she said she has not yet decided whether to seek re-election under a different banner.
Referring her to her complaint against Coun Hutchinson, she said the whole experience had left her deeply upset.
“As an elected member of the county council, and a member of the west planning committee, it is my duty and legal right to ensure that all planning applications are dealt with within the legal planning framework, to ensure that the integrity of the planning system and the reputation of the council is upheld,” she said.
“On this occasion, Coun Hutchinson attempted to prevent me from asking relevant questions concerning two planning applications, and treated me in an unacceptable manner in a public forum.
“I felt strongly that I was unable to exercise my rights on behalf of the residents of Northumberland. I therefore welcome the investigating officer and committee’s findings, and the thoroughness and impartiality which this matter has been dealt with. ”
Last night Coun Hutchinson said: “I am deeply shocked and hurt that the standards committee has upheld the complaint against me. It is with regret that I have resigned as chairman of the west area planning committee.
“I will continue to serve the residents of Haltwhistle division, and the people of Northumberland, to the very best of my ability.
“I do not accept the report of the standards committee, nor do I recognise the description of my behaviour that it includes, and I’m considering my options accordingly.”

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Ennerdale Road in Blyth to house gypsy and travelling families

Ennerdale Road in Blyth to house gypsy and travelling families

An aerial view of Blyth
An aerial view of Blyth
A NEW temporary site to house travellers and help tackle the problem of unauthorised encampments is set to be developed in Northumberland’s biggest town.
The £311,000 transit site for gypsy, Roma and travelling families is proposed on land at Ennerdale Road on the outskirts of Blyth.
Next week the county council’s Liberal Democrat executive is expected to confirm the choice of the site, which has emerged as the most suitable after a total of 14 were originally identified and examined.
The council will use £311,000 in funding from the Homes and Communtties Agency to develop the eight-pitch site, on land bordering Blyth’s industrial estates.
A report to next week’s meeting says providing the official transit site will reduce the cost of managing unauthorised travellers’ encampment, both in terms of staff time and clear-up costs.
A row erupted a year ago after the county council moved an extended travelling family on to part of the Wansbeck Riverside Park in Ashington as a temporary measure. Almost 700 local people signed a petition amid concerns that the 17-acre park could become a permanent transit site for travelling families.
However, the travellers and their six caravans moved off the site after staying there for a few months.
Blyth Town Council has voiced a number of concerns about the proposal to develop Ennerdale Road. It has questioned why a transit site is not being built in the west of the county, and fears that the facility could lead to the loss of current or potential jobs in Blyth. The town council also has concerns that travellers might remain on the site permanently.
Daljit Lally, corporate director of adult services and housing, says in her report to the executive that the site is being proposed in  Northumberland because that is where the greatest need is, based on existing migratory routes.
She said: “A properly managed site should avoid it being used as a permanent site and causing disruption to local businesses. The planning process will give an opportunity for local concerns to be considered, and the project team can consider further publicity to explain the proposals to local residents and businesses.”
A planning application will be prepared and submitted after the executive chooses the preferred site.

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The word the Tories are afraid to say sorry

Sir –
An apology at the very least

After reading your story on the guilty verdict of Haltwhistle’s Conservative Councillor Ian Hutchinson, its gob smacking that one simple word is missing from the story.
Neither the Conservative party nor Councillor Hutchinson felt it necessary to apologise for his shocking actions highlighted in the report which is a disgrace in itself.
It seems ‘sorry’ is the hardest word in the case of Northumberland Conservatives and Ian Hutchinson.
 I noted that Mrs Dale has been deselected by her party and one would hope that was not linked with her brave decision to ignore Conservative Leader Peter Jackson’s pleas not to rock the boat and to make sure that bullying is confronted head on. Her decision makes stark contrast with Councillor Jackson’s attempts to sweep Hutchinson’s actions under the carpet.  
For anybody to seek to intimidate or bully someone is shocking enough but a senior county councillor chairing a high powered committee? That really beggars belief.
It is surely not reasonable to carry on, as he is as quoted in the Hexham Courant and blindly state ‘he’s done nothing wrong’. He should accept his punishment and do the decent thing and apologise to the people he’s let down and to the person who was bullied by him, Councillor Dale.
If he continues to act as though he’s in denial then what does that say about the Conservative party in Northumberland? Does this mean they accept his actions and therefore condone bullying or will they act to force Councillor Hutchinson to face up to his shortcomings?
Make no mistake, people are watching and waiting for actions not words from Northumberland Conservatives and Ian Hutchinson.