Wisbech mayor claims independent councillors forming alliances is “sleazy and dishonest”

THEY may have 34 of the 40 seats but Tories on Fenland District Council now have three opposition groups with which to contend.

In one corner are the Liberal Democrats with two seats - party leader Councillor Gavin Booth, deputy Councillor Dave Patrick.

Then there is the husband and wife team, henceforth and officially to be known as the Truly Independent Group- party leader Councillor Virginia Bucknor, deputy Councillor Michael Bucknor.

And then there is the loosely aligned March-Manea axis, officially to be known as Fenland First Independent Alliance – party leader Councillor Mark Archer, deputy Councillor Rob Skoulding.

Opposition councillors have formed alliances to force maximum representation on council committees.

Tories voted to give each opposition party leader the smallest possible additional responsibility allowance of just �1,572 per annum for each of them.

Ian Hunt, the chief solicitor, had offered alternatives that included giving each opposition leader �5,500 a year or a second formula that would have given them each �2,881.

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But it was his third option which the Conservatives supported, even though the average �30 a week top up attracted fury from Tory councillor and Wisbech mayor Jonathan Farmer.

He accused those who had stood as independents of “reprehensible behaviour” in coming forward to claim an opposition party allowance.

“They claimed to be independent but now they are forming a group,” Cllr Farmer told Thursday’s night council meeting. “The electorate has been hoodwinked.”

Cllr Booth said there were “no machinations” and it was simply a case of groups being formed to get maximum representation.

“I didn’t stand for election to get extra allowances,” he said.

Council Leader Alan Melton said an independent review group would address anomalies but for now “we are stuck with the constraints.”

Cllr Mrs Bucknor said she found it “grossly offensive” for Cllr Farmer to suggest their decision was based on financial gain.”

Cllr Farmer said after the meeting that “just because you can deceive the electorate does not make it morally acceptable.

“It is a question of right and wrong. Independents’ lying to the electorate is wrong. “Independent should mean just that.

“To hoodwink the electorate into believing you are independent and then form alliance is sleazy and dishonest.

“It is difficult not to offend a fellow councillor when you are telling them that they have deceived the electorate. I did my best.”