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SWW escape scrutiny due to council 'paralysis'

South West Water

'It would have been a very opportune moment to hold them to account'

Torbay Council has been left in a state of ‘paralysis’ in the aftermath of a stormy mayor-making meeting which resulted in opposition councillors walking out.

Liberal Democrats, independents and the lone representative of Prosper Torbay got up and left the chamber in protest as the meeting at the Riviera Centre ended in chaos.

Now a string of meetings - including a showdown with South West Water - has been called off because the make-up of the council’s committees will not be decided until after a crucial by-election in Torbay next month.

The Riviera Centre meeting saw the council’s Conservatives - the largest single party group - vote against the appointment of Liberal Democrat mayor-elect Swithin Long, despite having previously given him their unanimous backing.

The position of mayor - normally ceremonial - is more delicate this year because the council is split 18-17 in favour of the non-Tory opposition. The mayor has a casting vote in the event of a tied council decision, making the position crucial in the coming 12 months.

The by-election takes place on Thursday 6 June in Wellswood, which is traditional Tory territory.

The opposition walkout came later in the meeting when council leader David Thomas (Con, Preston) moved a successful motion to adjourn selecting committee memberships and chairs until Thursday 20 June, saying: “It would make sense to deal with it after the by-election.”

The motion, he said, would go straight to the vote with no debate, in line with the council’s own standing orders. This sparked the opposition’s angry walkout.

Now a number of key meetings scheduled for the next month have had to be called off because the committees have no chairs or members.

A meeting focusing on adult social care has been axed, along with one on caring for children and young people. The council’s audit committee will skip its scheduled meeting, as will the overview and scrutiny board and committees overseeing Oldway Mansion and Torbay’s harbours.

Opposition leader Steve Darling (Lib Dem, Barton with Watcombe) said: “The council is effectively paralysed.”

Representatives from South West Water (SWW) and the Environment Agency had been due to face councillors at the overview and scrutiny board on Wednesday 5 June, but that meeting is on the ‘cancelled or postponed’ list.

“With the current cryptosporidium outbreak in Brixham, it would have been a very opportune moment to hold them to account,” said Cllr Darling.

“It is ironic that all the councillors from Brixham and the affected areas are Conservatives. Their actions have now resulted in us not being able to hold SWW to account on behalf of the community.”

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