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Anger over 'smash and grab' raid on Torbay council roles

Friday, 21 June 2024 13:05

By Guy Henderson - Local Democracy Reporter

Torquay Town Hall (Image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

Only Mayor's casting vote splits divided authority

Torbay Council’s Conservative administration was accused of a ‘smash and grab raid’ on the Town Hall’s top jobs during a bad-tempered meeting.

Mayor Marc Spacagna (Con, Cockington with Chelston) had to use his casting vote three times as the divided council split down party lines trying to decide who should run its committees.

After the Conservatives won the recent Wellswood by-election, 18 Tory councillors now sit on one side and 15 Liberal Democrats, two independents and one Prosper Torbay member in opposition. But the administration was accused of ‘arrogance’ as its new committee structure went through, thanks to the casting votes.

Council leader David Thomas (Con, Preston) put forward plans for the authority’s nine committees to be chaired by seven Conservatives and two Lib Dems.

But both Lib Dems declined, saying they had not been consulted and were not happy with the proposals. The meeting was adjourned three times so that members could consider late documents.

Lib Dem group leader Steve Darling (Barton with Watcombe) said that even after the Wellswood result, the council was not run by the Conservatives, but remained under no overall control.

“For a party that only controls half the seats to make a smash and grab raid on the positions of responsibility is wrong in the extreme,” he said. “This is not the way to do business.”

He put forward what he said was a ‘more equitable’ list of potential committee chairs and vice-chairs, including a number of opposition councillors.

“It is making sure we use all parts of the orchestra and not just half of it to serve the community,” he added, and said Cllr Thomas’ plans showed a "sense of arrogance and ownership."

He continued: “This is a failure to engage with people that is just utterly shameful."

Cllr Nick Pentney (Lib Dem, Tormohun) warned that the council risked becoming a deadlocked ‘lame duck’ and Cllr Swithin Long (Lib Dem, Barton with Watcombe) said the Conservatives were indulging in ‘Trumpian stuff’.

Independent leader Darren Cowell (Shiphay) said: “It is bizarre. It is hypocrisy of the highest order. We have been offered the crumbs off the table.”

But Cllr Thomas maintained that it was opposition councillors declining to take up their positions that risked bringing the council into disrepute.

And he added: “It is up to members to call out this kind of game-playing.”

Deputy leader Chris Lewis (Con, Preston) pointed out: “This council is under no overall control, but we got more votes than any of the other parties at the last local elections, and we have just won in Wellswood.

“The other parties have not formed a coalition to vote against us. We are trying to work together, and we have offered senior positions. We have to work together for the greater good of Torbay.”

Voting was tied 18-18 on the Liberal Democrat amendment, and the mayor used his casting vote to defeat it.

The vote on the Conservative proposal - which by now had all nine committee chairs in Tory hands - was also tied 18-18, with the mayor’s casting vote going in favour.

He had to use the casting vote again in favour of the administration when a vote on membership of overview and scrutiny boards was again deadlocked at 18 votes each way.

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