'I will not tolerate that language': Wakefield councillors in war of words over 'scum' remark

Watch as Cllr Akbar's "scum" comment sparks a fiery confrontation among Wakefield councillors. (Pictures from Wakefield Council)

Councillors in Wakefield traded verbal blows after one councillor referred to "the scum over there" during a financial debate.

A meeting was being held at County Hall to approve Wakefield Council's budget for 2024 to 2025 which included increasing council tax by almost 5%. It was briefly adjourned by Mayor of Wakefield Cllr Josie Pritchard following the comment by Independent Cllr Akef Akbar, who had previously disagreed with the council tax increase. Cllr Akbar had earlier said: "Can somebody tell me why the taxpayer should pick up the bill for your incompetence and your mistakes?"We should pull our fingers out and be more efficient."But Cllr Akbar made the controversial "scum" remark while raising a point of order when Labour's George Ayre spoke against a suggestions of a council tax freeze.

Councillors eventually approved plans to raise council tax by 2.99% and increase the adult social care levy by 2%. Credit: Google Maps

Cllr Akbar took aim at both Cllr Ayre and Cllr Pritchard - chairing the meeting - over how he felt they were treating him. Cllr Akbar said: "Can you explain to me why you are interrupting my colleague sat here, saying, 'don't speak across the thing' when you can't maintain order. The scum over there, he keeps looking at us..."His comment was interrupted with resounding disapproval, including from Cllr Pritchard, who asked Cllr Akbar to retract his statement. When the Wakefield East councillor refused to do so, the meeting was adjourned. Cllr Pritchard said: "I'm adjourning the meeting and I will not tolerate that language in this chamber while I am chairing this meeting."As Cllr Pritchard left the room, Cllr Akbar continued speaking. He said: "If you want to talk ****, come and say it face to face."It is unclear who this comment was aimed towards. After the mayor left the chamber, Andrew Balchin, chief executive of Wakefield Council, told councillors: "I know that feelings are pretty high about the nature of some of the comments that have been made. But we need to conclude some important business. Not just for you, but for the people outside this room."He added: "I would invite any councillors who have concerns about comments of behaviour today to meet with me."

Wakefield Council voted in favour of a maximum 2.99% rise in council tax, plus a further 2% increase in the adult social care levy. Spending plans to plug a £33 million funding gap for the next financial year were also approved. In a statement Wakefield Council said: "We understand that setting the council budget in the current economic climate is a difficult and emotive subject for Councillors to debate.“Regrettably, emotions did spill over into the debate and the meeting was adjourned for a short time. All members of the chamber were reminded to debate the issues respectfully and when the meeting resumed the budget was voted on and passed.”

In a statement, Cllr Akbar told ITV News: "My use of the word ‘scum’ was to intended to describe the member as dishonourable. "In the words of the deputy leader of the Labour Party this particular word is the “street language” of northern working-class roots.He added: "I have since reflected on the debate that ensued, I acknowledge that my choice of words was inappropriate and I apologise for my language, I should have had a better choice of words and in future I will ensure that I am more careful. I will continue to speak my mind, stand up for the residents of Wakefield East and of course hold the Council to account."

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