A row broke out at the full council meeting held at Barnsley Town Hall last Thursday, which resulted in Penistone West’s Coun David Greenhough, who is a Liberal Democrat, labelling Barnsley Independent Group leader Coun Phillip Birkinshaw ‘Labour’s rent boy’.
Councillors were discussing Barnsley Council’s controversial scheme which will result in a new one-way road being created through parts of Penny Pie Park in the Dodworth ward, which Coun Birkinshaw represents.
The meeting, which lasted four-and-a-half hours, saw campaigners from the Save Penny Pie Park Group gather in the public gallery to hear a notice of motion from Coun Peter Fielding, a ward colleague of Coun Birkinshaw’s, regarding the ‘overwhelming public opposition’ to the construction of the gyratory, which has been approved.
Although much of Penny Pie Park, alongside the Dodworth Road crossroads at Pogmoor, will remain after the new road is installed, much of the site will be surrounded by a three-lane, one-way system, leaving campaigners concerned it will not be suitable for use as a park.
Coun Birkinshaw, who said he supported the council’s scheme ‘with a heavy heart’, was then subjected to the verbal attack by Coun Greenhough, who won his seat in May’s local elections.
He has since repeated an apology to Coun Birkinshaw, and told the Chronicle: “I sincerely regret my use of inappropriate language in the full council meeting on July 25. This is not the language that should be used by an elected member under any circumstances.
“I apologised verbally, immediately after it was said, and then again at the request of the Mayor and I have sent a full apology to the member concerned.
“It was a long and extremely hot meeting, emotions were running high during a heated debate and I made a mistake. This isn’t an excuse, it means I am human like everyone else.
“As an elected member I know I should set an example like every politician in the country should. This incident will not be repeated.”
However, Coun Birkinshaw did not accept the apology and told the Chronicle he has been seeking legal advice this week.
“The comment has damaged my reputation - I’ve been a councillor for 22 years and I’m in my 70s,” he added. “I do not accept the apology as it was about me, it was a homophobic remark and it was totally inappropriate.
“To be honest I was gobsmacked by it and if I was 30 years younger I’ve have turned round and pulled him over the desk.”
Barnsley Council’s deputy leader, Coun Jim Andrews, and cabinet member Coun Sharon Howard have both called for Coun Greenhough’s suspension in the aftermath, while the comment also provoked social media reaction from leaders of Barnsley’s LGBTQ+ community including the Barnsley branch’s co-chairs Andrew Bogg and Kay Tinkler.
Coun Hannah Kitching, the Liberal Democrat party’s leader in Barnsley, said the comment was ‘highly inappropriate’.
“In my capacity as Liberal Democrat group leader, I have disciplined Coun David Greenhough for the highly inappropriate language he used at last week’s full council meeting,” she added.
“Coun Greenhough has already issued a full and unreserved apology to the member concerned.
“We are capable of recognising when lines have been crossed and taking immediate action to make amends. The Labour group could learn from that.”
Barnsley Council confirmed they had received ‘formal complaints’ following the comment.
Coun Alan Gardiner, cabinet spokesperson, said: “We can confirm that we've received formal complaints regarding the behaviour of Penistone West councillor, David Greenhough, at the full council meeting on July 25.
"We take any instances of discriminatory behaviour seriously, and under the Localism Act 2011 we're responsible for considering and investigating any such complaints.
“We’re not in a position to comment any further at the moment.”