It is with great sadness that as Chair of Blakelaw and North Fenham Community Council I am having to make this statement. The community council (council) have recently been made aware of a Facebook post made by an ex-community councillor that made a number of inaccurate statements. Whilst it would not be usual practice for the council to comment on such nonsense, given this post created quite a significant amount of discussion with feedback being received from residents that the ex-councillor continues to speak ill of the council it was felt that we had no other option but to respond. My apologies that this will be a longer statement than I would ever wish to make but feel it’s important to share the councils version of events.
Firstly, I need to point out that Parish and Community Councillors are NOT volunteers, they are elected in to the position of councillor by the electorate ie the residents of Blakelaw and North Fenham. In July 2022 I was alerted to a serving councillor receiving £660 of grant funding from a grant recipient at Christmas 2021. The original grant application had stated that the organisation would be spending the funding on a lunch out, if an applicant wishes to change the use of the funding then they must contact the council to ask permission. On receiving the monitoring forms from the organisation, it appeared that a serving councillor had received the funds to provide a Christmas lunch, this was confirmed by the organisation. As Chair, I am required to investigate the claim especially as this particular issue has been raised and discussed on a number of occasions with councillors agreeing that NO councillor should financially benefit from any grant funding being awarded by council – this councillor attended every meeting that this matter was discussed and knew this funding application had been granted. Whilst this practice is not legally wrong it is viewed as being morally wrong within the remit of the council. On meeting with the councillor, a number of statements they made concerned me and at the end of the meeting I informed them that due to comments made by them, the fact that I had spoken to this councillor before about their conduct and my concerns, I as Chair would be referring them to Newcastle City Council’s(NCC) Standards Board for “misappropriation of council funds” NOT for aggression although the councillor did become aggressive when challenged. This type of referral is a confidential matter between the parties and the councillor will have been reminded of this when spoken to by NCC. Whilst this councillor was spoken to NO investigation ever took place, this was NOT because there was NO case to answer but because the councillor resigned prior to any investigation taking place. To be clear this is an unpleasant process for everyone but a one I felt needed to be undertaken on this occasion.
In relation to comments made with regards to the “toxicity” of the council and a subsequent 3 resignations for this same reason, the council did contact each person regarding their resignations. One person confirmed that the reasoning for their resignation was due to other commitments that they had and NOT due to the reasons stated in the ex-councillors Facebook post, the other 2 people did not respond to my request for further discussion and evidence of this type of behaviour. At no point during these councillor’s term of office have they ever raised concerns regarding toxicity and/or bullying and when at a recent staffing meeting were shocked and surprised when the clerk raised as a concern the conduct of some councillors. The council takes these types of allegations very seriously and are currently awaiting advice from NCC on how to self-refer to their Standards Board which will hopefully review processes, practices and comments made although I am confident that the council have not conducted itself in a manner that would question its reputation or the work it does within the community.
In relation to comments made about being jealous following the awarding of a BEM – why would those who serve on the council be jealous of another serving councillor, are we not meant to be working together? The council shared congratulations along with many others. I do find this statement very odd as councillors undertake the work they do on behalf of residents to help, support and enhance residents lives and the area they live in not to receive awards!!!!
We have also received feedback from a resident that this ex-councillor has also stated that we refused a funding application for the play group for the recent October half term. I can confirm that the council did not receive an application for funding from the playgroup. The council will not tolerate this type of behaviour and will be monitoring the various feedback we do receive. The people of Blakelaw and North Fenham deserve the best and the council want to continue working hard to support the community in achieving this. We would welcome the opportunity to work alongside as many organisations as possible to enhance the lives of residents but this works both ways.
Finally, the council is a tier of local government and are expected to follow very specific process, practice and regulation, just like any other government institution. To ensure that the resident we serve are receiving the best possible support and value for their precept payment questions need to be asked and challenges to information are required. We do not have an endless pot of money and any spend has to enhance those residents lives who pay the precept.