The deselected deputy leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council Sheelagh Clarke has called the process “undemocratic” – and claims “somebody in London wants rid”.
Council Leader George Dunning, along with deputy Cllr Clarke, cabinet member Mark Hannon and former mayor Vic Jefferies were told at a meeting at the Claxton Hotel in Redcar on Sunday that they would not be allowed to stand for Labour in their wards in May’s elections.
It immediately raises questions about how the authority will run on a day-to-day basis – coming as it does after a further four Labour councillors were deselected last year.
But Cllrs Dunning and Clarke say they remain “as committed as ever”.
How the leader and deputy responded
“There is a budget for us to get through, and we’re proposing to keep council tax frozen again and do what’s right for the people of this borough,” said the leader.
“We’ve done a hell of a lot of work since taking the council back in 2007 – which a lot of people in our party didn’t even think we would do.
“As far as we’re concerned, unless there’s a vote of no confidence, Sheelagh and I will continue to run the council.”
Cllr Dunning insists he is the victim of a “power struggle” within the Labour Party and that the office of Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop “wants to run the council, and we won’t let them”.
“A lot of members in Teesville are getting on, or have been ill,” the leader continued.
“I wasn’t going to round people up on a cold day and tell them they had to come and vote for us, but I know we had the support.
“This has been a struggle for years.
“There have been people in this party who wanted to be leader, who wanted to be on the cabinet, and they are paranoid and power-mad.”
‘It’s not democratic’
Cllr Dunning has survived tests of his leadership in the past – both from within his own party and from the Liberal Democrat opposition.
And Cllr Clarke said:
“I do not think it is a democratic process. If the people of my ward had voted me out, I would fully accept that.
“But those people have been denied a chance, because somebody from the Labour Party in London wants rid of us.”
Meanwhile, cabinet member Mark Hannon blamed the fall-out on a rift between senior councillors and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, and councillors working in their offices.
Candidates are chosen by local Labour party members in each ward, but if not enough members show up, as was the case on Sunday, the party’s local executive steps in to vote.
And Cllr Hannon, cabinet member for economic development, said: “I went and did a ten minute presentation at my interview, I answered questions for ten minutes, and I know I did the best presentation.
“The other candidates weren’t in there for anywhere near as long as me.
“I am popular with people in Redcar.
“Since I’ve been a councillor, we’ve got a new hospital in my Kirkleatham ward, housing, a new shopping centre.
“That doesn’t matter though. It’s been a cull of senior councillors.”
‘Labour just want to keep people on benefits’
“The Labour Party doesn’t care about the working classes any more.
“They just want to keep people on benefits and feather their own nests.”
“Against a backdrop of austerity, we have totally regenerated Redcar.
“We’ve not only kept leisure centres open, but we’ve built a new one, we’ve kept libraries open – and we’ve tried to keep council tax down.”
Cllr Hannon alluded to bullying within the party – which led cabinet member Olwyn Peters to claim she had suffered a breakdown.
This comes two-and-a-half years after Labour North’s Wallis Report claimed the Redcar and Cleveland Labour Group was “dysfunctional”.
What the MPs said
In a joint statement, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, thanked Cllrs Dunning and Clarke for their service but said it was “time for change”.
Mr Blenkinsop said:
“All candidates knew exactly what to expect, and the bar has been set very high in these elections.
“If deselected councillors were not told about the reasons for deselection, they’re not asking the right questions. Selection is a democratic process.
“The Labour Party is not looking for candidates that take support for the party for granted, or for anyone who is complacent. Candidates need to get out and talk to people to find out what they want.
“But I wasn’t part of the selection process for these councillors, so I don’t know what the reasons were.”
‘If Labour group can’t manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?’
Glyn Nightingale, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said the possibility of launching another ‘no confidence’ vote would “be a matter for group members to discuss”.
“If the Labour group cannot manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?” he added.
“I do not agree with what George Dunning and his administration have done in office, but I acknowledge that they have been working hard.
“It was up to the people at the ballot box to replace them – not an internal party manipulation.”
‘I totally do not accept any form of bullying’
Neil Bendelow, the chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, said that all members had been treated equally.
“The way that candidates were selected follows the Labour Party process and would be the same anywhere,” he added.
“All councillors were asked the same type of questions, and were allowed to give a ten minute presentation and answer questions for ten minutes.
“We have some fanstastic candidates who are going to work tirelessly for their wards.”
Last year, Cllrs Brian Briggs, Steve Goldswain, Norman Pickthall and Brian Hogg were also deselected.
But Mr Bendelow added: “I totally do not accept any form of bullying whatsoever.
“There is a process for anyone to follow if they feel they are being bullied, and I have received no complaints and no shred of evidence has been given to us.”
What the future holds
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke and Hannon were told that they could possibly stand for Labour in other wards – but say they were not given reasons for their deselection.
Cllrs Dunning and Clarke said that at this point, they would not consider standing as independent councillors.
Cllr Dunning said that Bob Norton, Rob Hodgson, and Geraldine Williams will now stand for Labour in the Teesville ward.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
Councillors have been slammed for walking out of a meeting – because a member of the public was filming proceedings.
Members of the Labour-controlled Hetton Town Council walked out of October’s monthly meeting after Kay Rowham started videoing it on her iPad.
The retired IT and telecoms worker took advantage of new Parliamentary legislation, signed by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in August, that anyone can record, film or tweet from public meetings of local government bodies.
However, her actions sparked a mass exit and now councillors have been told “democracy cannot live behind closed doors” by a council watchdog.
“I go to most of the meetings and I’ve just got a new iPad,” said Mrs Rowham, of Hetton. “When the rules changed, the town clerk advised members of it and I believe they all got copies.
“I did take a paper copy with me just in case, because they are not very public friendly. I go every month and I take notes, just to keep an eye on them.”
Mrs Rowham, who received 25 per cent of votes as a UKIP candidate in the May city council election for Doxford ward, started filming four minutes into the meeting.
She then posted the 12-minute, eight-second clip on video-sharing website YouTube under the name KittyKat.
“From the moment I started, a couple of the councillors looked at me, saying ‘look, she’s recording it’,” she said.
“There was nothing contentious going on. You could see they got uncomfortable and asked me to stop filming. They refused to carry on the meeting while I was filming.
“Coun Anderson said they should call the police. We weren’t being disruptive, it was the councillors causing the uproar.”
On the footage, town clerk John Price can be heard trying to explain to members that the council has to make the provision to allow filming
Despite this, Mayor Tony Wilkinson suspended the meeting, saying: “My ruling is that there shall be no recording until such a time that this is adopted by this council.”
In an explanation of the legislation, the Government website at http://www.gov.uk states:
“The new law aims to end active resistance amongst some councils to greater openness.
“Councils have even called the police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film council meetings, or claimed spurious ‘health and safety’ or ‘reputational risks’ to digital reporting.”
Coun Keith Hepple, leader of Hetton Town Council, said:
“The town council meeting on Monday, October 20, 2014, was suspended by the Mayor due to disruptive behaviour by a person.
“This was whilst discussing another issue. The town council is adopting a similar policy and procedure to meet the new legislation and whereby meetings can be recorded and filmed.
“Guidance has been taken from the National Association of Local Councils and their guidelines, and from discussions with other neighbouring local authorities, to ensure the council or its committees will be fully aware of the requirements and constraints of such.”
A spokesman for Labour North said: “This is a matter for the town council to look into under their complaints procedure and not for the Labour Party.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 05 Nov 2014
A Sunderland city councillor who claimed more than £26,000 in expenses in two years has resigned.
Labour representative Neville Padgett suddenly stepped down from his Washington East seat just five months after he was re-elected in May.
Earlier this year, there were calls for 68-year-old Mr Padgett to resign when figures showed he was claiming £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.
It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s standards board on Friday, although council bosses would not confirm this .
Council chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement:
“The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Coun Neville Padgett. A notice of vacancy in the Washington East ward will be published in due course.”
Mr Padgett hit the headlines in March when the 2012/13 expenses were published. He was found to have claimed £11,000 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors.
The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. At the time, he justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.
Then figures released in April showed that in 2013/14, he had claimed even more – just over £15,000 – to supplement his basic allowance.
A month later, voters in Washington East re-elected him for another term in a landslide victory. Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, who has led calls for Mr Padgett to step down, has now asked the council to investigate.
Coun Martin said he plans to table a question for the November meeting of the full council in order that any findings of the standards board are made public. He said:
“I have asked for the council to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing. I believe his resignation is linked to his expenses.
“I’m still waiting for the council to confirm that they completed the review I asked for to ensure his expenses were legitimate. It is in the public interest to know it has been done properly.”
Mr Padgett’s former Labour colleague and Washington South councillor Graeme Miller said:
“This is a standards board issue. I don’t know what their report said. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. He has resigned before the end of the process. Whatever happened on Friday is between Neville and the members of the standards board.”
Council leader Paul Watson said Mr Padgett’s resignation letter cited health grounds and that he needed more time to care for his wife.
“The electorate returned him with a greater majority and there is no better test than the local community making the verdict,” Coun Watson added.
Dave Smith said:
“Concerns were raised earlier this year about re-examining certain councillor expenses claims. These are audited on a risk assessed basis and any issues are raised with individuals in line with the Code of Conduct that all councillors sign.
“Because of the code and its procedures, it would be inappropriate to advise other councillors of an audit conclusion or for the council to make any further comment.”
A spokesman for Labour North said:
“Neville Padgett has not resigned from the Labour Party, but we do understand he has resigned as a councillor on Sunderland City Council.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 17 Oct 2014
Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.
She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
The departure leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.
A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”
A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.
“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”
The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.
The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).
Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.
He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”
Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.
Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.
“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉
Source – Sunderland Echo 04 Feb 2014