A decision by the Government to improve security measures for local councillors and clamp down on abuse has been welcomed by councillors who campaigned for the changes.

Cllr Claire Rowntree, deputy leader of Sunderland Labour Group, raised a motion at January’s Full Council calling for Sunderland City Council to support the ‘Debate Not Hate’ campaign.

Led by the Local Government Association, Debate Not Hate was set up to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the responses and support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.

The motion, tabled by Sunderland Labour and unanimously backed by councillors from all parties, led to Sunderland City Council writing a letter to the UK Government to request that it introduces – for the first time – dedicated police support for security matters.

Such was the groundswell support for the campaign from across the country, that the UK Government yesterday [29 Feb] announced that it will now seek to implement dedicated security measures for locally elected representatives.

Cllr Rowntree said: “We have been involved in various conversations over the past year – both locally and nationally – around the safety of those in local politics, so we are thrilled to hear that the Government has finally backed the campaign.

“This announcement means that all elected politicians will now have a dedicated police contact to liaise with over security issues. It also means that, for the first time, councillors will have a named contact for security concerns outside of the electoral period.

“It’s been great working with the LGA on this campaign and I think I speak for the entire party when I say we are proud to join them in welcoming this recognition of the seriousness of harassment and threats that councillors and MPs experience.”

Speaking after the Government announcement, Cllr Marianne Overton, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Civility in Public Life Steering Group said: “We are pleased the Government has taken steps today to provide improved protections for elected officials in light of a concerning rise in levels of abuse and that locally elected representatives will have dedicated police support for security matters for the first time. This is something we have long called for.

“Our recent analysis showed that eight out 10 councillors felt personally at risk while fulfilling their elected role last year, up 10 per cent from the year before.

“It is profoundly disturbing to hear of reports of councillors being harassed and intimidated whilst doing their job. It should not become the norm that councillors need to install CCTV and panic alarms in their houses to feel safe whilst fulfilling their democratic duty.

“We want to work with the Government to help take much needed steps to protect local councillors whilst they fulfil their democratic duty. This includes ending the legal obligation for a council to publish a councillor’s home address and providing greater police protection for local representatives.

“We must end abuse in public life and encourage healthy debate if we are to safeguard the future of our local democracy.”