WE HAVE BEEN uncharacteristically silent of late on the subject of Northumberland County Council’s Absentee Councillor, Roderick Lawrie.
You might have wondered why.
After all, The Clarion/Voice of the North has been running regular articles questioning the right of a paid county councillor to attend only one full council meeting every six months and never to appear at monthly meetings of any of the dozen or so parish councils in his Norham and Islandshires constituency.
Finally, after nine months of repeatedly asking why the area’s elected representative was not doing the job he is paid a £12,000 a year allowance to carry out, the editor of The Clarion promised to appear at a full council meeting on September 4 and put that question on his readers’ behalf to the leader of the council, the Conservative leader Peter Jackson.
SHAMEFULLY, DESPITE BEING ASSURED THAT THE CLARION WOULD RECEIVE A FULL, WRITTEN REPLY AS WELL AS Cllr. JACKSON’S ‘LIVE’ RESPONSE, NOTHING OF THE KIND HAS BEEN RECEIVED FIVE WEEKS LATER!
At the September 4 meeting, in front of most of the assembled members taking part, Councillor Jackson was asked: “ 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?
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 saw no problem that Lawrie did not live in this country, let alone the county.
Allowed a supplementary question we asked: How did our attendance figures for so-called ‘Councillor’ 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. Whereas The Clarion’s figures specifically relate to the months following Cllr Lawrie’s December 2018 ‘flit’ to the Isle of Man, which explains why his previous attendances during 2018 look adequate whereas his 2019 attendances are woeful.
In view of his earlier reply, Cllr Jackson’s response to The Clarion’s second question was easily anticipated.
He was 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’s reply was, as you can imagine, firmly negative.
So why am I now publishing this ‘name and shame’ story now instead of providing a verbatim report of the council leader’s responses?
- Taking a verbatim note, even in shorthand, while taking part in the debate is at least unreliable and definitely fraught with danger.
- The Conservative leader’s reply, while misleading, was lengthy and somewhat rambling. And because the inquiry came from a member of the public neither question nor response will appear in the minutes.
- I was promised a speedy written response for publication. AND IT HAS NOW BEEN FIVE WEEKS!
The Clarion is still waiting. The regional government cannot be allowed to ignore either press or public. We would appeal to parish councillors and all those concerned that local democracy is ill-served by the tactics of an Absentee Councillor and, now, his leader to make their feelings known in emails to <Peter.Jackson@nullnorthumberland.gov.uk> or by post to Bradford Edge House, Belsay, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, NE20 0HH.