Bedlington councillors dismiss ‘ridiculous' claims their votes were 'bought' in no confidence motion against Northumberland County Council leader

Bedlington councillors have dismissed the ‘ridiculous accusation’ that their ‘votes were bought’ ahead of the motion which successfully ousted the council leader last week.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 12:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 12:21 pm
The three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace.
The three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace.

Northumberland County Council has confirmed, though, that new proposals relating to the Bedlington town-centre redevelopment that were announced last week have not yet had formal approval from the authority.

Advance Northumberland, the council-owned regeneration company, which made the announcement, said that it was to ‘update the community at our earliest opportunity as we do with every project milestone’.

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The three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace – voted against the motion of no confidence in the leader.

However, their support was not enough to save Cllr Jackson, as three Tory rebels – Cllrs Christine Dunbar, Mark Swinburn and Wayne Daley, the deputy leader until his resignation in August – voted with Labour, the independents and two of the three Lib Dems.

During the meeting, Cllr Wallace said: “What we don’t have yet are facts. Until we do, we should get on with what we were elected to do.”

Cllr Robinson spoke to highlight last year’s external audit report by EY – who have since resigned as auditors after a breakdown in relationship with the council – which referred to the ‘highly politically charged environment’ at the authority.

“If that’s not a clarion call for more independent members of this chamber, I don’t know what is,” he added.

But while summing up her motion, Cllr Susan Dungworth, the Labour group leader, said: “People need to think about what price their vote is.

“The other thing we have responsibility for is for ensuring the budget is spent correctly, that extra things are not brought forward and I would question whether £833,000 per vote is good value for money for the taxpayers because that is what the Bedlington vote has cost today.”

It was taken to reference the announcement by Advance on Tuesday, September 1 – the day before the meeting – that £2.5million from the Government’s Getting Building Fund ‘will help get the town-centre redevelopment back up and running with a start date expected this year’.

Since the meeting, Cllr Crosby has published a blog post – https://tinyurl.com/y29ue5d7 – to ‘set the record straight’ on why he didn’t support the motion and the ‘ridiculous accusation that the votes of Bedlington councillors had been bought by the proposed investment in the town centre’, as ‘I will not be lectured at by Labour or any other political party’.

He said: “I did not support the vote of no confidence for the quite simple reason that no evidence was provided by Labour or any other councillor that spoke to back up allegations and rumours.”

On the second issue, he wrote that he finds ‘the hypocrisy and irony off the scale’, asking: ‘What has Labour ever done for Bedlington?’

“The investment in leisure in Bedlington is the result of the hard work of myself and my two colleagues over several months who are motivated only to do what is right for Bedlington,” he added.

“(The meeting) was a political sideshow as a result of Conservative Party infighting and Labour opportunism.”

In a post on his Facebook page, Cllr Robinson, who is on Advance’s board of directors, also suggested that his vote was about fairness.

“Had this been done after these investigations had reported and found evidence of wrongdoing then fine, but what happened was nothing more than inter-tribal rivalry of the worst kind,” he said.

Addressing the allegation that he and his colleagues’ ‘votes had been somehow bought’, he added: “We have been working on that for years to progress it and I have been working flat out since Covid hit to still enable a scheme and one which is achievable and better suits driving the town forward for the next few decades.

“We put in for the ‘Boris fund’ months ago so I’m not sure how all of that can be dependent on a vote no one knew about until yesterday (Wednesday, September 2).”

As previously reported, the allocations for the £900million Getting Building Fund (GBF) were announced on Tuesday, August 4, with Bedlington included on the North East list.

However, what was new in last week’s announcement was that the scheme has been amended – because of the economic impact of Covid-19 on the high street retail market – to include a swimming pool and a relocated library.

Advance’s chairman, Richard Wearmouth, said at the time: “Works involving the anchor supermarket store remain unaffected as will the frontage onto the market square which will still include additional shops. It is anticipated that these works will start in 2020 as previously suggested.”

This week, a Northumberland County Council spokeswoman confirmed that the new proposals had not yet been given the green light by the authority.

She said: “Proposals to relocate the council’s library service and provide leisure facilities in Bedlington have not yet been subject to any formal approval process within the council, however, we have engaged Advance Northumberland to explore the opportunities for developing the area.

“The council is committed to improving Bedlington town centre and consideration of the wider proposals under development by Advance Northumberland will be considered formally by the council in due course.

“We are committed to working with residents to develop proposals that meet the needs of its communities and will continue engaging with them in the coming months.”

An Advance spokeswoman said: “In regard to funding and new facilities for Bedlington, we were asked to explore in spatial terms if the new facilities could be incorporated onto the Bedlington development site.

“The Getting Building funding was introduced by the Government in July 2020 in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic to help facilitate the delivery of projects and to help spur a green economic recovery and create new employment opportunities.

“A budget of £47million was allocated to the North East with an additional £8million from the LEP (local enterprise partnership). Bedlington has been selected as one of the North East projects and a business case is to be submitted.

“The announcement was to update the community at our earliest opportunity as we do with every project milestone.”

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