Fife’s councillors are to be given access to potentially sensitive personal data about constituents amid fears for their safety.
The 75 individuals elected by the public on Thursday will be given the same access rights as Fife Council employees to the violent marker system (VMS), set up a year ago in response to violent incidents or threats of violence directed at local authority staff.
The Courier understands the move comes after one Fife councillor, who asked not to be named, received a death threat earlier this year, and in light of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June.
It comes in spite of concerns the local authority could potentially face sanctions should there be any breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, which stipulates personal data must be processed fairly and lawfully.
Eileen Rowand, executive director of finance and corporate services at Fife Council, insisted incorporating guidance from the VMS into the existing health and safety advice provided by the council could provide elected members with “critical” safety information.
“Legal services and the council’s data protection officer consider this approach likely to be a lawful and proportionate response to the challenge of protecting elected members while still having regard to processing data lawfully and ensuring any risks arising from the sharing of this data are mitigated to the greatest extent possible,” she said.
The VMS was put in place in March 2016 at the request of trade unions and employees who were concerned as workers become more mobile and cover larger areas, they would be less familiar with addresses and residents putting them at greater risk of potentially violent situations.
Access to the system, granted at different levels, is currently only given to employees who have a direct need as part of their role and only the minimum amount of information necessary is provided.
As meeting constituents is an inherent part of a councillor’s role, they will be allowed to use it.
It has also emerged police have been made aware of the delivery of a newspaper cutting to North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins in recent days.
The cutting, which was put through the letterbox of his home near Cupar, is understood to have included comments which were critical of the SNP and Mr Gethins, although did not contain any specific threats towards him.
Mr Gethins, who lives in a rural part of North East Fife with his pregnant wife and young family, has a high profile in his role as the SNPs spokesperson on Europe.
It is understood concerns have been raised with local police as there is no need for people to be visiting his home when the constituency office is based in Cupar and is easily accessible.
Mr Gethins said: “We have a very important election coming up and it is vital we all conduct ourselves in a way that is respectful of all views even if they differ from our own. That is the essence of any democracy.”