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New social media code of conduct proposed for Suffolk councillors after racism allegations





Councillors in Suffolk could be told what is and isn’t appropriate social media use in a new code of conduct proposed after some high-profile allegations of racism online.

The government has launched a consultation on a model code of conduct for councillors, prompted by the change in ways of working as a result of coronavirus and a greater reliance on digital and remote meetings.

Two councillors in Suffolk quit their roles and political parties in June amid allegations of sharing racist posts on social media – Frank Warby from West Suffolk Council and Robin Vickery from Suffolk County and Ipswich Borough councils. A number of others also found themselves grilled over other questionable posts.

Two councils have called for social media use to be enshrined in the code of conduct. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Two councils have called for social media use to be enshrined in the code of conduct. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Suffolk councils are now responding to the government’s consultation, where it has emerged that social media misuse has increasingly become an issue.

In their joint draft representation, Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils said: “There is an increasing need for clearer guidance for councillors about appropriate conduct on social media both to ensure a high standard of conduct by councillors, to enable councillors to challenge the inappropriate behaviour of others on social media and to provide protection to councillors from social media ‘trolling’.”

The authorities have called for social media use to be enshrined in the code of conduct.

One problem to emerge has been the extent to which complaints can be upheld for misuse of social media from personal social media accounts.

Authorities have a clause in their code of conduct which stresses that councillors must not conduct themselves in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or authority into disrepute.

But council monitoring officers have acknowledged that complaints could not be upheld on a social media post if it did not relate to council business because it was outside the council code.

The Babergh and Mid Suffolk response added: “In many cases it is difficult to prove official capacity and therefore the complaint cannot be upheld.

“This can be very unsatisfactory to the complainant and the public who often consider that any public activity by councillors should be covered by the code of conduct.”

A discussion on the matter at East Suffolk Council on June 29 heard that the new model code of conduct which was being consulted on “made it clear that it applied to all social media, if it impacted on the reputation of the council.”

Any future change would need to be adopted by each authority through their full councils meetings, although it is understood there is a common desire in Suffolk for a united code across the county.