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The Dragon Says: Time for Ash Parish Council Chairman to Admit His Error

Published on: 21 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 22 Apr, 2022

The beleaguered position of the Ash Parish Council chairman, in defending his two absent councillors who now live in Wiltshire, is looking less and less credible.

Since November The Dragon has been pointing out that Cllrs Helen and Tony Gorham appeared to be in contravention of the rule that councillors who do not attend for six months are automatically disqualified.

The fact that these two councillors moved away from the area in 2020 is not in itself against the rules, even though many would regard that as reason enough on its own to resign. It is their absence from meetings that is the real point. They have not attended a single parish council meeting in person.

Their only attendance has been at committee meetings held online. This was permitted during the pandemic, but in the spring of 2021 a High Court ruling meant that attendance online would no longer count.

The relevant High Court judgement was remarkably clear.

High Court judgement handed down in April 2021

Now we also have a clear opinion from the borough council’s monitoring officer, who has a role in overseeing the correct running of parish councils, specifically in handling complaints against them.

He told Ash Parish Council’s chairman, Cllr Nigel Manning, in an email: “I’m afraid it would seem the Parish Council may have received incorrect advice in April 2021.” That advice – received by Cllr Manning – had suggested that the council was acting within the rules.

But the monitoring officer’s email continued: “The requirement, to attend any meeting of the authority, has required physical attendance at the meeting since 6 May 2021 when the Flexibility Regulations expired. If Cllrs Helen and Tony Gorham have not physically attended a meeting of the Parish Council since 6 May 2021 and the Parish Council did not grant a dispensation, then both Cllrs were automatically disqualified six months from their last attendance.”

See also: Five Months Later, Parish Councillors’ Status Still in Doubt Despite GBC Officer’s Opinion

But the writing was on the wall months ago on the pages of the Surrey Association of Local Councils’  website.

Notice published on the Surrey Association of Local Councils in November 2021

And it now emerges that the council and its clerk are relying solely on unrecorded verbal advice given to Cllr Manning in April 2021 by an unnamed individual from the National Association of Local Councils in a telephone call.

The association has not responded to our request that they confirm the advice given and name the individual who gave it but why wasn’t written confirmation obtained by Nigel Manning at the very least? And why was it the chairman and not the clerk sorting out a matter of regulation?

The Dragon can’t find any other council in Guildford Borough that is not requiring physical attendance within six months. GBC made it clear last year that it was what was expected of its councillors and all 17 of Guildford’s other 22 parish councils, which have parish councils and who have responded to our question, have confirmed that they comply with the six-month rule too.

Cllr Nigel Manning, chairman of Ash parish council

Surely it is time for Cllr Manning to bite the bullet and admit his error. He should promptly accept the monitoring officer’s opinion and advertise two vacancies rather than keep digging the hole he is in, making it even deeper by creating further delay, and expense, if more legal advice, normally expensive, is sought.

And if he believes it is only The Dragon that finds his position untenable, here are some of the comments posted by Ash residents on social media over the last week:

I have known Tony Gorham for many years and I am surprised that he is going along with this. I hope he and Helen will recognise that they cannot represent parishioners from their new home. Although it’s not so new now as they moved quite a long time ago.

The Gormans have had many months to recognise that their continuance as Ash Parish councillors is indefensible when they live in Wiltshire. They should have resigned their seats immediately when they moved out of the area. Shame on them too for not doing the right thing. 

Unbelievable! I do not want any of my money spent on this. What’s the best way to show we don’t agree with this? 

I guess, the only thing we all can really do to stop it, is not to give our votes for that political party anymore… At least I won’t make such a mistake again. 

The reason the APC Tories are making the Gormans stay on is because they are terrified that any vacancy will be filled by a candidate of a different political stripe – as has happened with the most recent two vacancies – when Carla Morson and Pat Scott were both elected as Independents. If two more non-Tories are elected, once the Gormans leave (which they will eventually have to do) the Tories’ comfortable majority starts to look a little less assured. 

Anyone who wishes to protest this disgraceful behaviour should attend the next Parish Council meeting. They are normally held on the second Monday of the month at 6.30pm at the Ash Centre. So by my calculation, the next meeting is on Monday, 9th May. [The next Ash Parish Council meeting is confirmed as 6.30pm on May 9.]

See also: Who Can Say If Parish Absentees Are Still Qualified Councillors?

 

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