The fallout from Cllr Peter Richards’ shock resignation from Stratford District Council’s Cabinet has continued, with political opponents saying the Conservatives are in disarray at all levels.
In his resignation letter two weeks ago Cllr Richards delivered a damning assessment of the district council’s new leadership team, saying he had lost faith in its ability to run and control the authority.
He also criticised the ‘assassination’ of former leader Cllr Chris Saint by the current leadership and argued that they were putting at risk £55million in government infrastructure funding, which he had personally secured for the authority.
last week Dominic Skinner, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Stratford, said: “The resignation of Cllr Peter Richards from his post as Stratford District Council cabinet portfolio holder is another example of this Tory controlled district council demonstrating a clear “lack of leadership”, to use Cllr Richards words directly. Already this year we have witnessed the very public ousting of Cllr Saint as Conservative leader.
“We now have the recent ‘open’ letter to MPs from Cllr Molly Giles in which she expresses “no confidence whatsoever” in the Prime Minister Theresa May following the Chequers Brexit proposals and challenging her “authority and courage”.
“At all levels the Conservatives are deeply divided, suffering from bitter infighting and lacking unity and leadership. At the centre of this quagmire of discord we have our MP Mr Nadhim Zahawi. His lack of leadership and action on issues such as our struggling infrastructure (over four years since his first transport strategy summit), the lack of support for families with children with special educational needs and disabilities, a rise in rural crime, and proposed cuts to local school budgets. All of this has left his constituency treading water while the sharks are circling.
“The district deserves strong and unified leadership that puts residents at the forefront of decision making. Leadership that values positive action over political infighting, back stabbing and continued stagnation.”
During last Monday’s Cabinet meeting at Stratford District Council Cllr Peter Moorse, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, questioned where to the funding figure mentioned by Cllr Richards in his resignation letter had come from.
The meeting was told that the funding referred to came from the Housing Infrastructure Fund and a separate marginal fund, totalling £53million.
Cllr Darren Pemberton responded saying: “There is no suggestion and no evidence whatsoever that either of these pots of money are in any way at risk by virtue of any so called failings on behalf of the administration of this council. We are part way though a process and we have cleared all the hurdles of the process that we have been asked to clear so far. Don’t worry, we have not messed this up.”
Council leader, Cllr Tony Jefferson, added: “Undertaking these funding bids is never a one man operation, it’s nearly always a team effort and an awful lot of people around this table have been involved in that. I think they can take some quite considerable credit for the work done in getting that money allocated, although it is not yet finalised.”
Responding to Cllr Jefferson, Cllr Richards said: “The assertion made by Cllr Jefferson at Cabinet that the granting of Housing and Infrastructure Funding (HIF) was a “team effort” is, at best, misleading.
“Neither he nor any other member of the current cabinet (or any other member) had any involvement in the drafting or submission of the funding application.
“It would be correct to say that consultants were employed to assist in drafting the submission however that was drafted under my direction and under my stewardship.
“Indeed the consultants initially suggested an application would be unsuccessful. We have since seen that it was successful. Any claim made by Cllr Jefferson to the contrary is false. There are two elements to the funding that was granted, marginal funding (£14m) for which the district council was responsible, and forward funding (£40m) for which the county council were responsible. It is the latter in particular that I believe to be at risk.”
He added: “When the opportunity to apply for funding was made available, the County Council officers were clear that they did not want to include the SWRR as one of their HIF applications. It was only through work I undertook that the SWRR was included in the County Council submission.
“Since then, government representatives for the funding have made it clear that, unless either SDC or WCC take responsibility for the delivery of the road, funding would be withheld. Despite the SWRR being integral to SDCs Core Strategy and WCC’s strategic road network, neither council has taken responsibility to date and until it does that funding will continue to be at risk. It is my understanding that, following my resignation last week, a meeting has taken place between our MP and the leaders of both councils to resolve the matter. I can only hope that someone takes ownership of this now to ensure the best result for Stratford.”
Cllr Richards has now been replaced on the Cabinet by Cllr Jacqui Harris, formerly a member of the police service and now a staff nurse.
Commenting on Cllr Richards resignation letter, Cllr Saint merely said: “I was grateful that Cllr Richards acknowledged that I had been shoddily treated and I take comfort from that.”
Cllr Dave Riches added: “I think Cllr Richards was put under a lot of pressure, he was definitely one of the shining stars of the Cabinet and I have a huge amount of respect for him and his ability.
“He’s given his reasons, he doubts the ability of the leadership and he’s done what he thought he needed to do, so you’ve got to respect his decision.”
Giving her view on both Cllr Richards resignation letter and the attack from Dominic Skinner, Cllr Molly Giles said: “Both comments are not grounded in reality which can only lead one to conclude that they motivated by personal ambition rather than a genuine desire to work co-operatively and constructively to resolve local issues.”