“Silly woman” probe into Milton Keynes councillor comes to a juddering halt

A third meeting that was arranged to finally decide whether calling someone a ‘silly woman’ was disrespectful ended abruptly… and with no ruling made on the use of the phrase.

Independent Councillor Andy Dransfield, a long-serving Milton Keynes councillor and former Conservative leader, called senior Labour councillor Zoe Nolan a “silly woman” at a robust meeting of Loughton & Great Holm Parish Council back in November 2017.

Independent councillor Andy Dransfield

Independent councillor Andy Dransfield

Two previous meetings of Milton Keynes Council’s standards sub-committee had been held to chew the cud on the subject.

The first, in November 2018 decided not to impose any separate sanctions against Cllr Dransfield. He was ordered to apologise to police officer Kate Hiscocks after saying she should ‘still be at school’ and ‘you can go and do your homework now’.

But Cllr Peter Todd, the chairman of the parish council, appealed against the decision not to impose a separate sanction, arguing that it was a breach of the code, which calls for ‘respect’ not ‘seriously or substatially disrespectful’.

A second meeting was convened in February and councillors decided to quash the decision of the first meeting not to impose a sanction on the ‘silly woman’ comment.

So, on Friday (March 22), a committee manager, a legal officer, and councillors Vanessa McPake, Pauline Wallis, Catriona Morris, plus parish councillor Phil Winsor, plus two independent observers, and Cllr Dransfield, gathered to finally put the issue to bed.

Cllr Dransfield questioned whether the hearing should be held at all.

“You have no right to do anything because you cannot re-hear the same issue,” he said. “You are squandering public funds by going through the issue again.”

The cost of the first two meetings was put at £1,300 by Milton Keynes Council, which has a key role in overseeing the standards not just of itself but also the borough’s 48 parish councils.

The debate crystallised on whether the sub-committee had the power to decide the issue. After excluding everybody else from their deliberations for more than half an hour the sub-committee called everyone back for Cllr Vanessa McPake to make the key announcement.

“The process ends now,” she pronounced. “The decision made on February 12 was the final decision.

“We recommend the process for appeals is reviewed by the constitution committee. That is the end of this appeal committee.”

Paul Cummins, the council’s acting director for law and governance, said the reasons for the decision would be put in writing.

And, after Cllr Dransfield demanded that the “public has a right to know how much it has cost”, Mr Cummins said that would be included in later communications.

Cllr Dransfield, who is stepping down as a councillor at the elections in May, won’t be facing any further sanctions, but the issue will rumble on as it has exposed a hole in the council’s policies on such matters.

The constitution committee will be tasked with resolving how future issues of this kind will be resolved in future.