The silence from Northumberland County Hall deadens democracy

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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.

Absentee County Councillor Roderick Lawrie

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.

Conservative Leader Peter Jackson

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?

  1. Taking a verbatim note, even in shorthand, while taking part in the debate is at least unreliable and definitely fraught with danger.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I admire your persistence and hope that you will continue to keep us informed. Councillor Lawrie should have had the decency to resign long ago. He has the utter gall to promise to return to Northumberland as soon as Brexit is accomplished, as if any of his constituents would want him back. I sincerely hope that Lawrie, the Northumberland Conservatives, Boris, the Conservative government, and the whole sorry experiment that is Brexit, will soon be history!

  2. Are there no county councillors willing to support you on this? If they were to ask questions at a council meeting, they – and any responses – would appear in the minutes, thus possibly carrying a little more weight. At least some of them must feel aggrieved that one of their fellow councillors claims the same allowance they do for doing what seems to be a fraction of the work?

  3. Thanks Mick and Susan. Resignation would have been the decent thing but I fear that ‘the decent thing’ and politics no longer march in step. Power politics should not be permitted to interfere with democracy, however, which I believe to be the case here: Lawrie is being pressured to tough it out for the sake of Conservative control of the council. I am adding ALL NCC county councillors as subscribers to my 700+ circulation so they WILL see The Clarion and your comments. It will be interesting to see how many immediately unsubscribe, a route that is open to all readers of course.

  4. Thank you for your persistence in this matter and in trying to make the situation of how our County Councillors are financially rewarded for their positions more widely known. I hesitate to say how Councillors are paid for their work, as it is apparent that some of them do very little but are “paid” £250 a week just for the privilege of being an elected representative.
    There are many people in Northumberland who have to work long and hard to earn that sort of money.
    It is important that the pool of potential councillors should not be restricted to those of independent means or the retired so paying councillors to do the job is sensible.
    Even some of the 67 County Councillors who do live in the County and turn up to meetings appear to contribute little more than being lobby fodder for their party and ensuring their party has control.
    I believe the electorate should consider those standing for election as job applicants and look at what skills they could bring to the council and not simply to vote on party lines. An effective County Councillor has to both represent, and “fight for” their geographic area, County Division, and also have the ability to take a County wide view of matters and act in the interests of everyone in Northumberland.
    They need to be able to communicate well, both ensuring the views of ordinary local people and how they will be affected by decisions made by NCC are heard in the Council chamber and by portfolio holders and officers, and also explaining the policy of the Council to residents who may not be as well informed of the wider issues as those running local government are.

    It is not an easy task and I do not believe it can be well done entirely remotely.

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