The Back Story: County Councillor Roderick Lawrie lives and works on the Isle of Man, rarely attends Northumberland council meetings and never shows up at the dozen parish councils he represents. A week ago, in response to complaints from readers and a campaign launched by former county councillor Dougie Watkin, The Clarion wrote to the Conservative Cllr Lawrie to ask when, given that he neither works nor lives in the county, he plans to do what he promised to do last December and stand down. He has not replied. Meanwhile, copies of the email were sent to NCC’s Conservative leader, Peter Jackson, and to Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan. Staffers for both acknowledged receipt. Since then, nothing. . .
A DOZEN parish councils in North Northumberland and hundreds, if not thousands, of voters in those villages have been left without proper representation at county level because of the ongoing scandal of their ‘Won’t Quit/Can’t Quit’ county councillor.
In early December 2018 The Clarion revealed that Councillor Roderick Lawrie, who has represented Norham and Islandshires on Northumberland County Council since 2016 when long-serving farmer Dougie Watkin was unseated in a national swing against the Liberal Democrats, had been forced to leave Northumberland and live on the Isle of Man for business reasons.
Since then the passing weeks have turned into months with no word of his promised resignation. Rumours abound that his departure has been ‘blocked’ by the county’s Conservative leadership because of fears that the finely-tuned balance of power might be upset.
In the six months of this year, Cllr Lawrie has attended only ONE OF SIX full council meetings at County Hall. More damagingly for the parish councils and voters he represents across his ward, he has attended only ONE OF SIX meetings of the North Northumberland Local Area Council at which North Area county councillors discuss local issues before they go to full council.
And his non-attendance at parish council meetings at which the county councillor is expected to convey opinions and decisions to county level is said to be zero. At least one parish council has demanded that a full record of Cllr Lawrie’s attendances and expenses be made available to the public.
According to the NCC website, any councillor “may elect to forgo all or any part of his or her entitlement to allowances” by submitting a written instruction. Council records show that in the 2018-19 financial year Cllr Lawrie was paid £14,004.
Now, former councillor and current LibDem campaigner Dougie Watkin has leafleted and door-knocked the area with a plea that ordinary voters contact Conservative high-ups in the county – MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Annemarie.firstname.lastname@example.org) and NCC leader Peter Jackson (Peter.email@example.com) “to demand that they take action”.
He said: “Local people deserve a councillor who will stand up for our communities and support those in need. I am deeply concerned that residents are being left without a voice on our [county] council and that people in tricky situations could suffer without a local representative.
“It is an utter disgrace that people are being used in this way.”
Basically, county councillors’ names must appear on the register of local government electors for Northumberland “at the time of nomination and throughout the term of office. . . [this is] an ongoing qualification.”
Furthermore, candidates/councillors must not only own or lease a home or place of work in the area but must ‘occupy’ the premises: a locked and otherwise unused building is not sufficient.
On behalf of readers of The Clarion, I have sent the following email to Cllr Lawrie with copies to NCC Conservative leader Peter Jackson and Berwick on Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan:
Dear Councillor Lawrie,
Last December you promised the electors in the dozen north Northumberland parishes which you represent on NCC that, given your forced removal for business reasons to live and work on the Isle of Man, you had “no option” other than to resign from the council <http://www.voiceofthenorth.net/exclusive/>.
Since then you have, according to NCC records, attended only one full council meeting, one of the monthly North Area Local Meetings and – as far as I can ascertain – not a single meeting of the dozen parish councils you represent.
At the same time you have continued to accept the allowance paid by NCC to active councillors.
There is now a growing campaign to urge you to make good the assurance you gave me eight months ago, not least from frustrated Clarion readers who feel they lack county representation.
I urge you, and the above senior Conservative figures whom I have cc’d, to make some explanation for this disturbing situation.
The columns of the Clarion are open for your reply.