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Formal complaints lodged against council leader over heated exchange with female councillor

The row centres on an exchange between council leader Ian Ward (left) and Cllr Morriam Jan (right). Credit: Birmingham City Council

Formal complaints have been filed against the leader of Birmingham City Council over the way he addressed a female councillor during a heated row at a public meeting, ITV News Central has learned.

Cllr Ian Ward has apologised after being accused of using “disgusting, degrading and offensive” language towards Perry Barr ward councillor Morriam Jan - but said he “strongly disputes” any suggestion that he treated her differently because she is female.

The exchange occurred as Cllr Jan asked a question related to controversial plans to overhaul the road system through the centre of Perry Barr. It includes introducing a dedicated bus lane along the A34 to allow a faster service between Walsall and Birmingham city centre, and demolishing the flyover.

  • Watch the exchange here:

Proposals which may see popular allotments along the Walsall Road built over as part of the council’s masterplan for the area, which it wants to complete in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, were also discussed.

Cllr Jan asked him why he was “pushing ahead” with the “unnecessary” plans, and said it had started to “destroy support” for the Commonwealth Games.

“We are currently considering all of the options - no decisions have yet been made, so I don’t see how it can be asserted that I’m pushing ahead with anything,” he responded, insisting that the plans for the road would make public transport a more appealing option.

“Taking down the flyover is precisely about giving up space from the motor car and handing it over to the bus in the form of a bus rapid transit scheme that will run up the A34,” he added.

“I hope, Cllr Jan, that I’ve made that clear enough for even you to understand.”

His comments were immediately condemned by others at the meeting, with opposition leader Cllr Robert Alden saying he had shown “total disdain and contempt… for a female councillor”.

  • Cllr Ward apologised during the meeting:

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Jan said she had been “disgusted” by his manner of address.

“I thought it was unprofessional and disrespectful,” she told ITV News Central.

She, along with fellow Liberal Democrat councillor Baber Baz, have filed formal complaints via the Standards Committee.

"It takes a lot of courage to stand in full council to discuss concerns and I am passionate in wanting to help my constituents," she wrote in her complaint.

"However, when you have been made to feel you are not good enough as a councillor [it] knocks your confidence."

Cllr Baz confirmed he had filed his complaint at the end of last week.

“I do believe Cllr Jan was targeted because she was female,” he said.

“If she had been male, I don’t think he would have gone down that road and spoken to her in the way that he did.”

A number of other councillors followed Cllr Alden in criticising the leader for the way he had spoken, and he did apologise during the course of the meeting.

He told ITV News Central on Wednesday that he was planning to speak to Cllr Jan again about the exchange.

I apologise for the comments made in full council last week, but I strongly dispute any suggestion that I spoke as I did because Cllr Jan is a female councillor. I spoke in the heat of the moment and would hope my fellow councillors will agree that my comments were out of character. I plan to speak to Cllr Jan about the incident and to again apologise.

– Cllr Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council leader

In a statement, a Birmingham City Council spokeswoman said: “We can confirm a complaint regarding last Tuesday’s city council meeting has been received and will be dealt with accordingly.”