Deputy Mayor describes Southend Council standards process as “broken” after complaint over ‘liked’ Facebook comment is upheld

Mick Ferris
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A Labour councillor on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has called for Deputy Mayor Mark Flewitt to consider his position after a standards “committee” found that he was “disrespectful to people of Chinese ethnicities”,

Cllr Matt Dent submitted a complaint in July 2020 regarding Cllr Flewitt having ‘liked’ a comment on his Facebook page on a post regarding the Chinese company Huawei’s 5G ban in the UK on security grounds, saying: “Great news. I wouldn’t trust them with sweet and sour dog, let alone our security infrastructure.”

The initial complaint, which was upheld, was that Cllr Flewitt had breached the code of conduct by liking a racist comment and asked for him to apologise.

Cllr Flewitt has refused to do so, or to engage with the investigation process, which he has described as “a broken system”, leading to the full investigation and Standards process with barristers procured at a cost of over £4,000 to the taxpayer.

All of the Conservative councillors on the Standards Committee chose to boycott the proceedings and play no part in the process, meaning, according to the Tories, that the decision was made unitarily by committee member Giles Gilbert.

Cllr Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward said: “I am pleased that the Standards Committee has made the right decision in upholding my complaint.

“All councillors are representatives of the people of Southend and hence should be respectful of all communities in the borough – and even more so for civic leaders such as the Deputy Mayor.

“I am saddened that this matter has had to go this far, as it could have been resolved by a simple apology on the part of Cllr Flewitt.

“His inability to recognise racism when he sees it is of great concern.

“I am also deeply concerned at the decision of the Conservative Group on the council not to participate with the standards process. All members are bound by the code of conduct, and it is not for the Conservatives to decide that the rules don’t apply to them.

“The role of the Deputy Mayor as the second citizen of the borough makes them a civic leader, and I do not see how an individual can continue to serve in that role having failed to recognise the offence they have caused in this matter, and in the light of a Standards Committee ruling that they have breached the code of conduct. I would strongly encourage Cllr Flewitt to apologise for his actions, and to consider his position as the Deputy Mayor of Southend-on-Sea.”

Speaking exclusively to the Yellow Advertiser, Cllr Flewitt, who is leaving the council anyway following the upcoming local elections, having only stayed on for an extra year because of the coronavirus pandemic, described Cllr Dent’s reaction to the findings as “excitable” and said: “This was not a decision made by a Standards Committee, but by one man, who has unfettered power to do what he wants.

“ The comment made on my council Facebook account was not racist, it was satirical – a bit dark maybe, but a dig at the Chinese regime, not Chinese people.

“Labour has a network of trolls who check everything written on Tory social media. It’s wokeism and I refuse to take part in their broken system.”

Cllr Dent repudiated the claim that the decision had been made by Mr Gilbert alone, saying: “The Conservative members of the Committee did boycott the meeting, but the committee was still quorate and considered the matters in depth.”

Conservative Group leader, Cllr Tony Cox

Meanwhile, the Conservative Group on the council condemned the use of expensive barristers to investigate the case.

The leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Tony Cox, commented: “The use of expensive barristers to investigate this complaint is extraordinary and the public will be rightly concerned at the blasé use of taxpayers money.

“The council’s complaints system is fundamentally broken with trivial politically motivated complaints being made in an abuse of the councillor standards complaints process for party political point scoring.

“No Conservative took part in any hearing which equates to a council political show trial.”

In a released statement, Cllr Flewitt added: ““We have seen time and time again freedom of speech trying to be censured by this council.

“The censorship, wokeness and political correctness all points in one direction – authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness.

“I have not and will not be taking part in this process as it is nothing more than a politically motivated waste of taxpayer cash.”

Mick Ferris

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