Fresh claims of sexism and skulduggery as recording of council meeting released

A group of people standing in a doorway: Opposition councillors at Uttlesford

A cross-party alliance put forward a Motion of No Confidence in the current R4U administration. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford District Council has released footage of a No Confidence debate held behind closed doors on Monday (June 28).

The footage shows Uttlesford councillors airing their concerns of "sexism" and "skulduggery" in council meetings led by the current Residents for Uttlesford administration.

Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat politicians proposed a Motion of No Confidence in R4U and council leader John Lodge at Monday's meeting.

Councillors initially chose to hold the debate behind closed doors when officers raised concerns that legally privileged information could be aired, but this information was not discussed.

Councillors quashed the motion, backing R4U by 20 votes to 10.

A sign: Essex Police, Uttlesford District Council

Councillors voted to exclude the press and public from the meeting amid fears legally sensitive information would be leaked. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

The first portion of the meeting was held in public.

Councillor Paul Fairhurst, a Green Party politician who left R4U in 2019, challenged the council's decision to hold the debate in private.

Cllr Fairhurst said any decision to hold a Motion of No Confidence in private amounted to "skulduggery" and "secrecy".

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He added: "Are we actually afraid of other people's opinions?

"Isn't it absurd that a debate over good governance is held in secret? Or perhaps this is proof of the problem.

"This is an inconspicuous failure of local government."

Cllr Fairhurst also claimed that the R4U platform which he stood on in 2019 - to "put residents first, not second or third" - had failed.

He said: "How do we salvage the dream, or do we concede that we are just ordinary politicians after all?"

When the press and public were asked to leave, Green Party councillors Barbara Light and Vere Isham left the chamber.

Green Party Cllr Barbara Light.

Green Party Cllr Barbara Light. - Credit: Archant

Speaking to the press afterwards, Green leader Cllr Barbara Light said: "I will not legitimise the meeting with my presence."

In the chamber, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Melvin Caton proposed the motion.

He said R4U is "unfit to lead the council".

Cllr Ayub Khan, also of the Liberal Democrats, said: "You came to power on a form of protest, and you are still governing that way.

"That's inappropriate."

Conservative councillors said they were concerned about sexism.

Tory councillor Susan Barker said: "I did make a complaint against Cllr Lodge.

"In the second budget meeting in February, he used the phrase: 'Perhaps Cllr Barker has gone off to get her beauty sleep'.

"I do not think that is a respectful phrase for the leader of a council to use."

The council's legal officers did not uphold the complaint as it was said "in the heat of the moment", Cllr Barker claimed.

Cllr George Smith said this was evidence of "sexism" and called for councillors to "show more respect" to one another.

A council meeting chamber

Uttlesford Council Offices, Saffron Walden: Although the press and public were excluded from viewing the debate, the vote was held in public. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Only 10 out of the district's 39 councillors cast a vote of no confidence in the Residents for Uttlesford administration.

The Uttlesford Independent councillors did not back the motion.

Cllr Neil Gregory said failings had been made, but with a plan to expand Stansted Airport headed for the High Court and a police investigation underway, it would be premature to declare 'No Confidence' in Cllr Lodge.

Cllr Gregory said: "To call for people to step down when we do not know if there is a case to answer is appalling.

"It's cancel culture."

He added: "I find it very strange that the Conservatives - the party of Churchill and Thatcher - want to abandon due process.

"I find it even stranger that the Liberal Democrats want to abandon the presumption of innocence until proven guilty."

A man wearing a beige blazer and fashionable glasses: Cllr Neil Gregory

Cllr Neil Gregory - Credit: Uttlesford District Council

R4U leaders defended their actions throughout the debate.

After winning the Motion by 20 votes, R4U's Cllr Lodge said he had a mandate to rule.

He said: "Our massive poll victory in the county council elections is the mandate that we need.

"The residents know what we're doing and they vote for us."

Cllr Lodge added that no evidence of any wrongdoing was presented at the meeting.

R4U members claimed the meeting on Monday was expensive and a waste of officer's time.

Cllr Lodge said his focus is on environmental initiatives and Covid-19 recovery.

Read on:

Read what councillors said after the Motion of No Confidence 

Cllr Lodge pledges to block Stansted Airport expansion plans in the High Court