Tuesday, 26 June 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Lib Dem Council in Crisis

It was not too long ago, last year, that Gainsborough's Liberal Democrats were proud to announce that they had secured a majority on Gainsborough Town Council, after otherwise disastrous local election results for West Lindsey District Council - knocking them back to their lowest number of district councillors since 1992.

They got off to a flying start, suspending all committees to conduct a governance review (rumoured to be costing the authority several thousand pounds) and then later announcing a cut of 3.8%, in the Town Council's portion of the Council Tax for 2012/13, at the start of 2012. However, this momentum has stalled. Now the Council is in Crisis - with calls for the authority to be abolished.

In January the authority had it's first resignation.  Cllr. Mrs. Pearl Banyard, Non-Aligned (Gainsborough East Ward), who was first elected in 1996, and who resigned on grounds of ill health.  A by-election was called and Cllr. Sean Brennan, Non-Aligned (East Ward) elected.

Then in March Cllr. Ms Julie Nicolson, Liberal Democrat (North West Ward) resigned for reasons unknown.  The minutes of the subsequent Town Council meeting merely mention, perhaps tactfully, the fact of it, but not the substance.  On 26th April Cllr. Dave Dobbie, Liberal Democrat (North West Ward) was elected.

As April came to a close, Cllr. Robin Perry, Liberal Democrat (North West Ward) - who had replaced Cllr. Dobbie on the Council in August 2011, because post election paperwork had not been properly submitted - resigned from the Liberal Democrat party.

Cllr. Perry now sits as an Independent.   According to the Gainsborough Standard he no longer saw eye-to-eye with the party and claimed 'bullying' tactics were being used to make councillors toe the party line. He said:

"Being a councillor is about the residents of Gainsborough and they should come first, not our own personal agendas."
Then, only days later, just prior to the Town Council's Annual Meeting, on Tuesday, 7th May 2012, two councillors resigned. The first, and most dramatic, was Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Gainsborough Town Council, Cllr. Trevor Young, Liberal Democrat (South West Ward).

A spokesman for Gainsborough Town Council confirmed his shock resignation stating:
"Councillor Young handed his notice of resignation to us on Tuesday at 4pm stating personal and professional reasons."
Cllr. Young, who continues to represent the South West Ward on West Lindsey District Council, said the Town Council was 'drowning' after 'years of previous mismanagement', reported the Gainsborough Standard.  He said that despite the £4,000 governance review aimed at improving the council, there was still a 'lack of commitment to change'.
"Less than half the councillors and officers turned up for the workshops."
He also said there was a lack of openness and transparency between officers and councillors, which had created 'major concerns' over financial issues.
"No-one on that council knows if the accounts show significant over spending or under spending at any one time.  
"The only option, I believe, is for the council to self opt into special measures, so that the district council can take over for 12-24 months
"This council is in crisis. Other bodies desperately need to intervene to get it back on track."
Meanwhile, Cllr. Brennan joined Cllr. Young in resigning. He stated that his 'personal integrity' would not have allowed him to stay.
"I was motivated to stand for election by a desire to serve my local community."
Cllr. Brennan said in the short period he had served (six weeks), he had become convinced the public body was 'a horrifically poor waste of public resources'.
"The only way value for money can be achieved is by the town council being abolished." 
"In the meetings I have attended I have seen pure maladministration and an embarrassing level of incompetence."
 Two by-elections have now been called for Thursday, 12th July 2012.  In the East Ward contest there are four candidates:
  • Richard Charles Banyard (Independent)
  • John William Beaver (UKIP)
  • James Alexander Plastow (Non Aligned)
  • Michael Tinker (Liberal Democrat)
Mr. Michael Tinker, serves as both a District and County Councillor for Gainsborough and so is widely expected to win with a comfortable margin. However, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are eager to secure a by election win - even on to a first tier council  - There local Party Chairman, Mr. Nick Smith recently wrote, encouraging activists:
"John Beavers campaign will kick off with leafleting on Sunday 1st July at 2pm this is to catch the postal voters which get their votes on the 3rd July. 
"Followed up by leafleting on Tuesday the 3rd July".
They both have the potential to take the seat.

Meanwhile, In the South West Ward contest there is a straight fight between two candidates:
  • John Butler (Gainsborough Residents Concerns and Issues)
  • Timothy Mark Davies (Independent)
Little is known about John Butler and the 'Gainsborough Residents Concerns and Issues' name, is not a party but a description.  Mr. Davies is a former Town Mayor and is seeking a likely return to the authority. Either candidate has the potential to be successful, what is surprising is that in a ward which went solidly Liberal Democrat in May 2011 the party has not managed to field a candidate.

In conclusion there are significant difficulties being experienced by Gainsborough Town Council.  Both from internal factors, such as the machinations of the ruling Liberal Democrat group and mistrust of the authority's staff by councillors, and external factor such as dwindling public support for the council by the residents of Gainsborough.

For the Liberal Democrats the impact of failings, within and without, of Gainsborough Town Council is the loss of credibility with the local electorate.  Gainsborough Town Council is the only authority locally they can point to and demonstrate what the hallmark of a Liberal Democrat administration is. Looking at the current situation in Gainsborough perhaps the politicisation of the Council is nothing to be proud of.

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