Sandwell council chiefs in social media clause u-turn

Sandwell Council has made a u-turn over its stance on social media housing complaints after being accused of have threatening freedom of speech for thousands of council tenants.

SANDWELL PIC MNA PIC DAVID HAMILTON PIC  EXPRESS AND STAR 3/9/2019 STOCK GV Exterior at Sandwell Council House, Oldbury..
SANDWELL PIC MNA PIC DAVID HAMILTON PIC EXPRESS AND STAR 3/9/2019 STOCK GV Exterior at Sandwell Council House, Oldbury..

The council has published a statement explaining the clause had “not come across in the way we intended” after being criticised by House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who compared the authority to a “totalitarian communist state”.

Bosses held public consultation over adding a new social media clause to tenancy agreements, but councillors and tenants have criticised the move as an attempt to stop legitimate housing complaints on social media.

In a statement Sandwell Council said: “We consulted on our tenancy conditions because we wanted to hear what the views of our tenants were.

“The proposals have now reached a wider audience and it is clear our purpose, which was to make sure that people could do their jobs without being harassed, has not come across in the way we intended.

“We will look at the wording along with all the other areas of review.”

The comments came after West Bromwich West MP Shaun Bailey raised his concerns over the Labour-led authority’s public consultation into changing parts of council tenancy agreements, to include a new clause on social media usage, in the House of Commons earlier this month.

The new clause stated: “You, people living with you and any visitors to your property must not use social media or any other form of communication to make false statements, abuse, threaten, harass or be derogatory towards council employees, contractors, agents or councillors.

“Communication includes telephone calls, text messages, emails or posting comments on social media. This condition applies wherever the communication takes place.”

In an BBC WM radio interview the MP said the wording was so wide that it ran the risk of being challenged time after time.

Mr Bailey said that current tenancy agreements between renters and Sandwell council are “already covered” by a specific clause regarding abuse or harassment of council employees.

He added that politicians, including councillors, need to be challenged.

Sandwell council has been hit recently by more controversy.

Last week, Bristnall ward representative Rajbir Singh, who was council leader stepped down, citing “personal reasons”.

The unusual move to quit part way through a term of office is likely to see the seat remain vacant until next May’s local elections.

In the last three years, the Labour-dominated authority has had five leaders and three chief executives.

Kim Bromley-Derry is the current temporary chief executive, who leads the council’s paid staff, as the authority attempts to find a permanent replacement.

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