How a Manxman makes a better Northumberland councillor than a farmer who lives in the county – by council leader Peter Jackson

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At last! A reply from Northumberland Council leader

SEVEN WEEKS ago The Clarion/VoiceoftheNorth appeared at a Northumberland County Council meeting and asked council Leader Peter Jackson how a £12,000-a-year county councillor could represent a dozen parishes from his home in the Isle of Man. At last, a written reply has been received.

Obtaining the promised written reply for publication has not been easy: it required a succession of email applications and two text messages to Cllr Jackson which went ignored until I sent the following message to the NCC Chief Executive Ms Daljit Lally: “I wish to complain in the strongest terms at this unwarranted delay. Democratic Services assured me that the reply would be forthcoming but as yet I have had no response from Councillor Jackson. I wish to make a complaint at my treatment and ask you to take up my case with the council leader. My only alternative is to seek redress through the appropriate Ombudsman.” Within an hour of receiving Ms Lally’s assurance of action I received the council leader’s response.

Although the (Conservative) Leader carefully avoids the question of the ‘Absentee Councillor ‘ Roderick Lawrie’s permanent residency on the Isle of Man since December 2018 – after which he had attended only ONE full county council meeting (the minimum requirement), ONE North area councillors’ meeting and NOT ONE parish council meeting – Cllr Jackson made the following claims:

  • Cllr Lawrie was “no better or worse than other councillors past or present;
  • [Over the past two years] he has dealt with 781 emails and 52 phone calls;
  • He has done more for local communities than his predecessor [former councillor and Norham farmer Dougie Watkin, a Liberal Democrat]

The questions I asked on September 4 were:

Would the chairman agree that a sitting Northumberland County councillor who neither lives nor works in the County and since January has attended only ONE of the last FOUR full council meetings, only ONE local North area council meeting and – as far as my research has been able to establish – not a single parish council meeting this year is depriving thousands of Northumberland council taxpayers, who live within the dozen parishes for which he has responsibility, of the representation they have a right to expect? He was further asked, Will the chairman use his good offices to persuade the county councillor for Norham and Islandshires that his conduct is damaging the wider interests of this council, his party and, more importantly, the very nature of regional democracy,  and that he should stand down and allow a byelection to take place?

Cllr Jackson replied that despite living overseas since December 2018, rarely attending an NCC meeting this year (and never a parish council meeting) the Absentee Councillor had a ‘wonderful record’ of helping parish councils in his constituency. How? Via phone and email, Cllr Jackson claimed. He appeared to see no problem that Lawrie did not live in this country, let alone the county.

Allowed a supplementary question I asked: How is it that my minuted attendance figures for Cllr Lawrie differ so greatly from those claimed by his party leader?

“My figures align with the council year from May to May,” said Cllr Jackson. [The Clarion’s figures specifically relate to the months following Cllr Lawrie’s December 2018 ‘flit’ to the tax haven Isle of Man, which explains why his previous attendances during 2018 looked adequate whereas his 2019 attendances were woeful.]

“Here follows an unedited transcript of the Leader’s reply to my questions:

“I apologise for the delay in replying to you but we feel that your questions were answered in full at the Council meeting and would have thought that you would have been able to note the comments at the time. 
You will have noted that Councillor Lawrie was present during the whole of that Council meeting as a part of his fulfilment of his duties as a County Councillor. As I did explain the duties of a County Councillor extend to far more than just attending various formal Council meetings.
I did state that the attendance at meetings of Councillor Lawrie is no better or worse than other Councillors past and present and has been more than enough to satisfy the minimum requirement. The duty of a Councillor is to make a difference to people as an advocate of local residents and their needs and Councillor Lawrie has demonstrated this as I detail below. In fact I have received messages of support for his actions from a number of his local Parish Councils.
Over the last two years he has evidence that he has dealt with 781 emails, that he has been engaged in 52 phone calls dealing with local issues as well as making numerous personal visits. He has attended most of the 10 Parish Councils in his Division apart from two whose meetings clash with County Council meetings.
The evidence also indicates that he has done more for local communities than his predecessor particularly through his use of the Councillor’s Small Schemes Allowance. The following list, which I read out to you in the Council meeting, includes just a few of the local projects which he has supported over the last two years. These are just examples of the extensive work which Councillor Lawrie has been engaged in and which you may well not have been aware of. 
Ford – Ford School – Flashing warning lights. Hugh Joicey School – 20mph speed limit, new play equipment for Ford play park
Bowsden – Tree cutting, repositioning of speed signs
Holy Island – School trim trail, Car park, 20mph speed limit, Causeway, Parish property claim
Kyloe – Bus timetable, New radar speed signs
Norham – New radar speed sign, Contribution to Tweed walk
Horncliffe – Lighting at Horncliffe Memorial Hall, Contribution to Tweed walk
Cornhill – Contribution to new defibrillator
Ancroft – Lobbying to provide bins for Cocklawburn Beach   
During the Council meeting I did remark that my view is that this is a purely political campaign. The proof is that he has been far more active than his predecessor in his attention to local priorities.”

I would be happy to publish messages of support for or contradiction of Cllr Jackson’s assertions. In my own defence I might say to the reference in the leader’s opening statement that [a] it is almost impossible to take part in a mini-debate while making an accurate note of the many points Mr Jackson made; and [b] his final allegation of a “purely political campaign” is offensive to a senior journalist who is carefully unaligned to any party or group and who seeks only to inform the public.

Over to you. . .

9 COMMENTS

  1. This is exactly why community journalism is so important. I think David Banks is doing a wonderful job holding people in power to account. If he doesn’t do it, no one else will. I sincerely hope that David continues this valuable work exposing the shameful behavior of the elected people who are supposed to represent local interests.

  2. On the basis that I live in the area can you tell me how I could stand as a replacement councillor for Norham and Islandshire? I used to work for NCC and know about some – shall we say –practices adopted by NCC. Incidentally, I would be standing as an independent councillor as I am retired and can dedicate a large amount of time to the role.

    • Well said, David Spencer-Barclay! If this scandal doesn’t encourage others to take a similar stand, or to at least to remember these tricksters at the next election, then we’re all wasting our time and democracy is lost.

  3. The projects that Jackson attributes to our ‘absent friend’ are presumably paid for from the £15K [Councillors’ Small Allowances] fund that he has at his disposal to distribute to good causes. [In this case] it has been split over 13 PCs at £1K a go, with the councils free to spend as they wish. So Lawrie can hardly be credited with responsibility for the outcomes.

  4. II think comments about Dougie Watkin are certainly disputable, if not actually libellous. On a personal level, whilst Dougie’s e-mail techniques may be a little haphazard, he is certainly out and about the area and was eminently approachable.
    I think (a personal view only) Roderick Lawrie has only recently begun using up his Small Schemes allowance, certainly his go-ahead for Fenwick’s speed sign has only come in the last few weeks; his renewed interest in the area seems to be coincident with the ‘Private Eye’ [Rotten Boroughs] piece.
    As a parish councillor, and editor of the Kyloe Parish News, e-mails to him were not responded to and even bounced back because it seemed the e-mail inbox was clogged up.
    On a factual level, he gave absolutely no help to Kyloe Parish over bus timetables, since Berrington residents have had to make do with a timetable for the 464 service which is a mirror image of the one that serves our village. I did manage to phone him on the issue (he was then nominally resident at Tiptoe) and spoke with him about the use of an operator (PCL based in Prudhoe with a very limited fleet) for the services running from Wooler to Alnwick rather than a local company. As far as I am aware he made no intervention on our behalf; at least he didn’t let me know of anything.
    I have only missed one Parish Council meeting since he has been councillor and have only seen him at one meeting – the first after his election.
    PS: These are my own views, not necessarily those of my parish council.

  5. This was worth a read even if you are not from the north-east for insight into how local councillors do not like to be queried. It’s an appalling tale. Well done, Banksy, for your persistence.

  6. Mr Lawrie’s attendance rate is better than some other cllrs. Stephen Bridget from Rothbury is a serial offender for not turning up to meetings, despite getting an allowance for being vice-chair of the North Northumberland Area Committee.

    Doug Watkins attendance was poor when he was a cllr, I can’t recall him doing anything good for the community. Mr Lawrie may be away but the Tories are spending far more in North Northumberland than Labour or the Libs did.

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