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Borough Rejects More Resident Complaints About Ash Parish Council

Published on: 3 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 6 Dec, 2020

Cllr Nigel Manning was the subject of one of the complaints made following a bad-tempered parish council meeting in September.

By David Reading

Residents’ complaints about Ash Parish Council have been rejected on “technical grounds” after investigation by a Guildford Borough Council standards committee.

Two complaints were triggered by a comment made near the end of a full parish council meeting in September, held online because of the pandemic, with residents tuned in.

Cllr Paul Spooner, also Conservative ‘ind’ borough member for Ash South & Tongham, had resigned.

Tory-supporting Bill Cole, co-opted to fill his place, directed a remark at unsuccessful candidate Ms Carla Morson, which drew loud public comments of “disgusting behaviour”, “utterly appalling” and “roll on the election”.

Resident James Morgan-Yates lodged official complaints to the borough council against Cllr Cole and the parish council chairman, Cllr Nigel Manning. He claimed Cllr Manning failed to deal with Cllr Cole’s remark, effectively “brushing it under the carpet”.

Cllr Bill Cole speaking during the meeting at which he was co-opted.

The complaint against Cllr Cole was rejected because he was not sworn in when he made the remark and therefore not subject to the council’s Code of Conduct. The complaint against Cllr Manning was rejected because his actions were not considered to be in breach of the Code.

Asked for further details, the borough council’s media department stated: “We are unable to discuss or comment on complaints on any individuals.”

The borough council has an official protocol for dealing with allegations against all councillors. That states an independent person or persons must assist the monitoring officer and the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee in considering complaints.

That committee is normally chaired by Cllr Manning as a borough councillor, but the protocol states no member can participate in any decision if he or she has any conflict of interest. But the council would not confirm who chaired the committee for that item.

Mr Morgan-Yates was unhappy with the ruling and the process by which Cllr Cole was co-opted.

“It was clear the entire co-option process was predetermined and Cllr Cole was always going to be successful because of his support for the Conservatives,” he said.

“Carla Morson was the obvious choice, showing much better expertise along with her huge support for the community through the pandemic.

“I felt the situation involving Cllr Cole’s comment and the way it was brushed under the carpet by the chairman needed to be dealt with. That was why I made formal complaints.

“Guildford Borough Council does not consider Cllr Manning to have breached the Code. In that case the Code itself is poor. This all reflects badly on the borough council.”

A third complaint by Mr Morgan-Yates claims disrespectful remarks were made by Cllr Ed Schofield on social media to members of the local community. This complaint is believed to still be involved in the borough’s investigation process.

As the Dragon has reported, a fourth complaint against two other councillors has also been dismissed. In September, Cllrs Tony and Helen Gorham moved 60 miles away to the Marlborough area and rejected any suggestion to stand down.

Resident Peter Corns made his official complaint because he believed they would not be able to represent the parish effectively at that distance.

Then the borough’s legal department found the couple did not breach the parish council’s Code of Conduct. Mr Corns was told candidates seeking election to parish councils are required to meet certain conditions on the day of the election under the Local Government Act 1972.

But councillors are entitled to move away and legally remain as councillors for their remaining term of office.

At the time the couple moved, Mr Gorham said he and his wife were confident they could continue to be able to represent the people of the Ash parish, pointing out they would be regular visitors. The couple are believed to still own their vacant house in Ash Vale.

Mr Corns said he remained concerned parish councillors are permitted to live well outside their area. He said the council clerk had told him this was a legal matter that needed to be covered by the Local Government Act.

But Mr Corns could see no reason why a parish council should not amend their own Code of Practice to insist any councillor should resign their position if they cease to be residents in the parish they represent.

Some residents claim the reluctance of Mr and Mrs Gorham to resign may reflect a wish by Cllr Manning to maintain the council’s Tory party exclusivity. All 11 councillors are Tory Party members or supporters.

Four are also borough councillors and one a county councillor. Ash council has not yet responded to a request for comment. Cllr Manning has said he will not co-operate with Dragon NEWS.

But now parish Cllr Graham Eyre has resigned and local opinion has rallied, claiming the last election was not given enough publicity, which led to the co-opting. A growing number of residents are demanding their vote in the election to replace Mr Eyre, due in May next year.

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test 6 Responses to Borough Rejects More Resident Complaints About Ash Parish Council

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 4, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Has GBC’s Corporate Governance and Standards Committee ever upheld a complaint against councillors? It is totally unfit for purpose.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    December 4, 2020 at 8:55 am

    Sounds like Ash Parish Council has rule of the Conservatives by the Conservatives for the Conservatives. A TTT (Tory Totalitarian Tyranny) enclave where conviction is inversely related to understanding.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    December 4, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    Jules Cranwell asks whether the Governance and Standards Committee has ever upheld a complaint against councillors. The answer is Yes – several times. For instance, in 2017 it upheld a completely specious, politically motivated complaint by the leader of the then Tory council, who is still as councillor, against backbench GGG councillor David Reeve. This complaint was supported by the current Lib Dem leader.

    The purpose of the complaints system is to allow the public to hold councillors and officers to account. Its abuse by powerful councillors to bully weak ones is a scandalous example of misuse of power that the current R4GV-led Executive could easily outlaw if it wants to through a simple amendment to the wording of the procedure.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 6, 2020 at 6:38 am

    And yet the same committee did not even consider a formal complaint about the acceptance of a disproportionate level hospitality from developers, by the then leadership.

  5. George Potter Reply

    December 7, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    I really wish that Mr Cranwell wouldn’t indulge in these baseless conspiracy theories.

    The Governance and Standards Committee exists to determine whether or not breaches of specific rules have taken place. This occurs after the monitoring officer has initially referred it to an external panel to determine whether or not there is a valid case for investigation.

    Unfortunately, the law is quite limited in what it requires of councillors. Therefore all the complaints made about Ash Parish Council have been rejected because, no matter how morally objectionable the behaviour of the councillors in question has been, they are technically within the letter of the law.

    There is no law, for instance, requiring councillors to continue to live within the area of the council after being elected. Legally speaking a councillor can be elected on a Friday and leave the country on the Saturday and still continue to be a councillor as long as they attend one meeting every six months.

    The reason the law is so limited is because the expectation is that it is up to the voting public to decide what behaviour they do, or do not, consider acceptable and to enforce accountability at the ballot box. Hence the only sanction that can be applied to Ash Parish Council is the one which voters will be able to apply themselves at the next parish elections.

    In the case of former councillor David Reeve, my understanding was that the complaint was due to his disclosing confidential information; something which is a very clear breach of the rules.

    But presumably Mr Cranwell considers it victimisation when councillors he supports are held accountable for breaking the rules, and a conspiracy when councillors he opposes turn out not to have broken the rules.

    None of the above, incidentally, is a defence of the current rules. In my opinion they should be strengthened. But there’s a big difference between rules which are week being enforced properly, and a conspiracy to only enforce the rules selectively. Recent events are the former, not the latter.

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 10, 2020 at 7:53 am

    Cllr George Potter need not be concerned that there are any conspiracy theories here, just facts.

    The councillors’ code of conduct clearly states, inter alia, “(Councillors) should exercise caution in accepting any gifts or hospitality regardless of value which are (or which you might reasonably believe to be) offered to you because you are a councillor or co-opted member.”

    I complained that if this was “the law”, then in view of the hospitality accepted and recorded in the councillors’ register by some of those that were part of the previous leadership, it had been breached.

    Unsurprisingly, my important complaint was rejected, it did not even get as far as the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee. Fact.

    Yet some of the same councillors brought about the show trial of former councillor David Reeve; a shameful disgrace.

    And that is not even to mention other clear breaches of the Nolan Principles.

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