Cllr Geoffrey Harper has announced he is resigning as Conservative leader of Fenland Council from December 31. The Deputy Leader, Cllr Fred Yeulett has also resigned after losing a motion of no confidence in the Conservative Group. While Cllr Harper is 79 in January and felt it was the "right time" to stand down. Fenland Council has just had a high ranking from the Audit Commission and Cllr Harper has seen off a "vexatious" complaint against him to the Standards Committee. A less happy legacy is a planned 3% Council Tax rise.
The latest row has resulted from Cllr Yeulett showing an email marked "private and confidential" to officers. It was from another Conservative councillor, Cllr Alan Melton and had made some critical comments about officers (concerning a leisure centre.) Cllr Yeulett showed it to the Chief Executive Tim Pilsbury. The response of Mr Pilsbury was to make a complaint against Cllr Melton to the Standards Committee. This is just the process that Cllr Harper wants scrapped as an undemocratic waste of time and money.
Without having seen the email it is hard to comment on the substance of the point about the leisure centre. But surely councillors should be able to criticise council officers privately to each other. Attacking council officers in public is another matter. Mr Pilsbury's complaint to the Standards Committee rather confirms him as one of those Chief Executives who want put up with "interference" from councillors. If my Council was putting up Council Tax by 3% I'd certainly want to "interfere."
Fenland has 40 councillors – 39 Conservatives and one independent. I do think it is important in that kind of scenario for a Conservative Group to be prepared to flex its muscles sometimes if rigour and accountability are to be maintained. That is what they have done.