Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Has Tory Council Leader abused his office for party purposes?

The row about Cornwall Council's Conservative Leader Alec Robertson's decision to kick Jan Powell off the health committee rumbles on. The latest twist is that the Leader appears to view Cornwall Council as an instrument of his political party.

Jan Powell was the Conservative chair of the committee but lost that position as a result of being removed from the committee by Cllr Robertson. She subsequently defected to the Liberal Democrats. She has now made the following statement about the circumstances of her removal:

"I am releasing this public statement through my solicitor in order to put on record the way that I have been treated by the leader of Cornwall Council, Mr Alec Robertson.

It is widely known that Councillor Robertson reversed his earlier nomination of me to membership, and therefore by default chair, of the Health and Adult Overview Scrutiny Committee. What is not so widely known is the reasons given by Councillor Robertson. That has perhaps left the impression of some perceived wrongdoing on my part. I wish to take this opportunity of putting the record straight.

Councillor Robertson informed me of his decision in a letter written from him on Cornwall Council headed notepaper in his capacity as Leader of the Council. One of the main reasons he gave amounted to the fact that he was calling into question my ability to act impartially given the fact that I have an adult disabled daughter who is a service user of provision made by the Council. He thought that this might mean that I would be unable to consider the need for cuts by Cornwall Council in an unbiased way. I find this allegation both deeply distressing and offensive at the same time.

To suggest that parents of disabled people, or indeed anyone having a close relative receiving or likely to receive a provision in the future, are unable to put that to one side when making rational decisions is a shocking view to hold. I am concerned for the principle this advocates when there exists a very structured process in Cornwall Council to allow people in this position to understand their obligations and to act responsibly and objectively.

I have therefore asked Councillor Robertson to apologise personally. I have also asked Cornwall Council to apologise given the fact that the offending letter was purportedly sent on its behalf.

Cornwall Council has now disassociated itself from the letter making it clear that it had no knowledge of the letter which was written by Councillor Robertson personally and which therefore should neither have been written on their notepaper nor through their resource.

I have received no apology from Councillor Robertson and he has indicated that he will not do so.

It is clear that I cannot work with Councillor Robertson nor his party. I have therefore returned to the Liberal Democrats in order that I can continue serving the public to the best of my ability."

As Radio Cornwall's Graham Smith reports, Cllr Robertson views this issue as an internal party matter and not one for the Council as a whole. So why did he write on Council head paper and sign the letter as Leader of the Council. As MPs have found, the difference between their work as a party politician and as an elected official is a crucial one and many have had to repay the cost of materials used wrongly for party purposes. So will Cllr Robertson now apologise for the misuse of Cornwall Council stationery and repay the costs involved?

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