A group of councillors have been criticised for refusing to attend a meeting that was to discuss plans to reduce crime in Tunbridge Wells including violence against women and girls following a ‘personal spat’ with another councillor.
Last week (Wednesday, March 30), the Council’s Communities and Economic Development Cabinet Advisory Board (CAB) met to discuss a range of issues related the Community Safety Partnership Plan.
Joining the meeting was an officer from Kent Police, who was to update the committee on the emerging strategy to deal with incidents of violence against women and girls in the borough.
Councillors were also debating potential curfews and alcohol bans in a number of green spaces due to rising incidents of anti-social behaviour.
Despite the importance of the topics, half of the committee refused to turn up, choosing to boycott the hearing in what has been described as a ‘political stunt’ by the chairman.
There were 11 members due at the CAB meeting, but six opposition councillors did not attend over comments previously made in the Times by the Chairman of the committee and Conservative deputy leader Cllr David Scott.
In an interview in January, Cllr Scott had branded the Council’s planning committee ‘political’ when discussing the new plans for the cinema site.
He had said: “The planning committee used to be able to get things through relatively easily, but it is very political now.”
It is understood that last week’s boycott was arranged by Labour group leader, Cllr Hugo Pound, who sits on the planning committee and who had taken exception to Cllr Scott’s choice of words.
Among the topics to be discussed at the CAB meeting included measures to reduce anti-social behaviour in Sherwood Lakes – which is in the ward represented by Cllr Pound.
Cllr Pound told the Times the boycott was based on Cllr Scott’s refusal to apologise to the planning committee following his comments.
He added: “His failure to apologise since February smacks of Downing Street behaviour; never admit you’re wrong, never apologise, just keep going.
“Labour members, along with all other opposition party members, decided that we will not work with Cllr Scott until he has apologised or been removed from his role as Deputy Leader of the Council.
“He chairs the Committee that was boycotted last week. We still await a proper apology, three months on from when he made his remarks in the press.”
Also boycotting the CAB was Lib Dem Cllr Justine Rutland – an outspoken advocate for more action to prevent violence against women and girls and who had organised a candlelit vigil at the Town Hall last year to raise awareness of the issue.
Her boycott came despite the committee being scheduled to hear from Inspector Ian Jones from Kent Police, who was to update councillors on the Community Safety Partnership Plan, including its emerging strategy for dealing with violence against women and girls.
Cllr Rutland denied the boycott was a ‘political stunt’ and said she took her ‘duties very seriously’.
She added: “We are unwilling to work under the chairmanship of Cllr Scott because he has failed to apologise in person to the planning committee, as he was required to do, for breaching the Councillor Code of Conduct.
“Members of this CAB asked that Cllr Fairweather, the deputy chair, conduct the meeting instead, but that request was refused.
“We therefore sent apologies. I have good relations with the Community Safety Unit and asked all my questions beforehand. Some of these issues were raised by officers at the meeting, which I watched live online. I have since followed up by email.”
Cllr David Scott said he will be making a statement to the Planning Committee on April 6 with regard to his comments in the Times, which was ‘the earliest date’ agreed with the chairman.
Of the boycott, he added: “This is nothing more than a political stunt. As they cannot criticise our [Conservatives] performance in getting things done during the past 12 months as we climbed out of Covid, they are attacking my reputation.
“I set up the Cross-Party Group. They now want to convey the opposite to my push for greater co-operation on behalf of getting things done for the benefit of Tunbridge Wells and our community.
“I did not get involved for party politics, but to rejuvenate our town and Borough.”
Also absent from the meeting were Lib Dem councillors Mark Ellis and Hugh Patterson, Labour’s Dianne Hill, Nick Pope of the Alliance and independent councillor James Rands.
Other members of the Council have heavily criticised the boycott.
Independent Councillor, Matthew Bailey, who quit the Conservative Party earlier this year following the revelations about Downing Street parties, described the boycott as a ‘shame’.
He said: “Inspector Jones from Kent Police had taken time out of his diary to attend to answer questions. It’s hard to see how this ongoing personal spat between the opposition and David Scott is in the best interests of local residents.
“Councillors get paid an allowance, and residents expect them to attend meetings and perform the important function of democratic oversight of the Council’s operations.”
Have your say on whether the actions at the CAB were a ‘political stunt’ by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org