Wednesday August 24th 2022
Watch the video of the East Lothian council leader Norman Hampshire.
East Lothian council leader faced a backlash after telling new female councillors their questions about what more could be done to help families in poverty were “stupid”.
Councillor Norman Hampshire made his comments as he faced two motions from new SNP opposition councillors calling on officers to look at the cost of providing more free breakfast club places and using public buildings to create warm refuges, to help people cope with the cost of living crisis.
The council leader accused his opponents of “headline grabbing” before branding their motions “stupid little things” and “stupid political points”.
He later said his comments came after he was attacked by opposition councillors himself adding that if he raised his voice it was because of his strength of feeling over what was being proposed.
The outburst brought a stunned response from the new councillors with Scottish Greens Councillor Shona McIntosh telling a virtual meeting of the council: “I think we have the right to expect we can debate things without resorting to insults like having the leader of the administration shouting at new councillors just because they’ve put forward a motion he doesn’t think is practical.
“It is not a good look for Labour, it is not a good look for democracy.”
Mr Hampshire reacted after SNP group, leader Lyn Jardine who was elected at the May council elections, put forward a motion calling for a report on the costs and implications of making council owned public buildings Warmth Refuges – places people can go to stay warm during opening hours.
The council leader brought forward an amendment suggesting instead of a report he should write to the Scottish Government asking for East Lothian to be given its “fair share of the £4.6 billion increase it received from the UK Treasury”
He told SNP colleagues the council was going to struggle to keep community centres and libraries open because of a lack of Government funding adding it was irresponsible to add more debt to the council’s financial “black hole”
He said: “I cannot as a council leader support making further financial commitments with the budget in the state it is in.”
His amendment was carried by 10 votes to nine.
A second motion brought forward by new SNP councillor Lee-Ann Menzies asked for a report into the cost of expanding school breakfast clubs to all schools with additional meals offered to help families, also faced an amendment from Mr Hampshire which halted any costings report.
However Mr Hampshire introduced the amendment with an angry attack on opposition councillors for bringing the motions forward.
He told them: “It is quite clear the SNP motions are all about trying to get a headline rather than a serious proposal.
“If one of them had taken the time to speak to officers to discuss the practicalities of what is on this paper you would have been told straight away but you wanted to get a headline to say look how wonderful we are our government is not cutting any funding for you.
“It is an absolute disgrace, instead of protecting the SNP/Greens Government you should be protecting your constituents because we are facing massive cuts here in East Lothian.”
He went on to add: “We’ll ensure we protect the jobs and services in East Lothian not the SNP who’ll just make stupid expenditure things that you can’t afford.”
Councillor Jardine hit back saying: “The motion was proposed and seconded by two councillors who are newly elected guided by myself as a new councillor and leader.
“In the same way councillor Hampshire has said we should have spoken to officers it would probably have been pertinent, with his 30 years experience, to maybe have reached out and spoken to me about this rather than calling us stupid.”
And Councillor Menzies added her motion was coming from a point “not of ignorance because I am stupid but ignorance because I have not had these reports before.”
She said she was keen to work collaboratively with Labour colleagues but following the comments made in the meeting was finding it hard.
But she added: “I am finding it very hard to muster any enthusiasm for collaboration when I have been called stupid and have had false allegations aimed at me for wanting costings to help people out of poverty.”
Mr Hampshire said: “If I raise my voice it is my strength of feeling towards what you as opposition members are trying to push this council into.
“We are in a crisis I’ve got a council that is overspending significantly and I need to get that back into balance and you are proposing to create that into a bigger problem and if I get emotional about these things then I will do that because I am here to defend my communities.”Tweet Share on Facebook