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Watchdog rocket for feuding Torbay councillors

Torquay Town Hall

'They must ask themselves what they want their legacy to be'

Feuding Torbay councillors have been told to get their house in order by their national watchdog.

A report by the Local Government Association (LGA) says some council members from both the Conservative administration and the Lib Dem/Independent opposition need to spend more time serving the public and less time arguing.

It says: “The very small number of elected members from across the council chamber whose behaviours are impacting so negatively must ask themselves what they want their legacy to be.”

Now the council has drawn up a 15-point action plan to address issues highlighted by the LGA, which carried out a ‘peer review’ earlier this year, interviewing councillors, officers, staff and people whose work brings them into contact with the authority.

Rifts have appeared in the council in recent months, with the balance now split evenly between 18 Tory councillors and 18 Liberal Democrat and Independent opposition members. The council is currently under no overall political control and the casting vote on any important full-council decisions rests with the Conservative mayor.

Recent council meetings have been marred by angry exchanges, a walkout and deep divisions.

The LGA report, which will be considered by the council’s cabinet committee later this week, says the feud comes at a time when the bay has received ‘unprecedented’ quantities of government money to spend on local projects.

It goes on: “This is ‘a moment in time’ for Torbay. This opportunity may not come around again.

“The whole council – elected members and officers – and the wider community need to hold this in their mind and not lose sight of it.”

It says the council has shown drive, determination and delivery already but adds: “There is a lot to be proud of but there remains a lot to do.”

Council staff are praised for their engagement in the success of the authority and the LGA says there is ‘huge goodwill’ among employees, but councillors come under fire.

The report says: “It is clear that the current political tensions are negatively impacting upon staff morale and motivation, the vast majority of elected members, the reputation of the council and the trust and confidence of partners.

“The issues are vested in a very small number of elected members, from across the council chamber, who must ask themselves what they want their legacy to be – in a context of this being that ‘moment in time’ for Torbay.”

The LGA visit came earlier this year - before the Wellswood by-election - when the Conservatives were the largest party but were outnumbered by their combined opponents.

The report says the LGA panel could not make sense of the deteriorating relationships. It continues: “No overall control with a minority administration is not unique to Torbay and there is no ‘silver bullet’. It requires pragmatism on the part of political leaders to find common ground.

“What is crucial is there being a genuine desire to listen on all sides and not try to score political points. It needs to be approached from the perspective of 'how do we get things done for the people of Torbay’.”

Members of the cabinet will also discuss an action plan drawn up in response to the critical LGA report. It includes political group leaders meeting to discuss the LGA’s comments.

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