‘We have been dumped like garbage’
Splinters have emerged in the ruling Conservative group on Melton Borough Council after two councillors were removed as chairs of key committees following disagreements with leader Joe Orson.
Councillor Pat Cumbers, who has served the authority for 24 years, and Councillor Margaret Glancy, say they voiced objections to the content of a sensitive report which Councillor Orson presented to fellow Tory councillors at a meeting last month because they felt some statements in it were not true.
Councillor Cumbers says the leader then phoned her a few days later to inform her she was being replaced as chair of the scrutiny committee, which reviews all decisions made by the council’s cabinet.
Councillor Cumbers, who has now resigned from the Conservative group and is serving as an independent member, has now made an official complaint to party HQ about the leadership of Councillor Orson.
Just a few days after her vocal opposition at that Tory group meeting, Councillor Glancy said she was suddenly removed as chair of planning and she believes it was also due to the stance she had taken.
Councillor Orson maintains that the changes were made because of the need to get a team together to help deliver a number of key projects over the comming years, including the town bypass, a new leisure village and a second GP surgery for Melton.
On her reaction to being phoned by the leader about her demotion from the scrutiny committee, Councillor Cumbers told the Melton Times: “I was sickened after 24 exemplary years as a councillor.”
She added: “I have now complained to Conservative central office about Joe’s abuse of power as leader when he dumped Councillor Glancy and me like garbage because we objected to his report.”
She said the move was all the more galling because Councillor Orson had, just a few days before, praised her extensive scrutiny report to cabinet on how the council had responded to the pandemic and he had backed all seven recommendations which she had made.
Councillor Glancy described her sudden removal as planning chair after two-and-a-half years in the post as ‘a shock and a huge surprise’.
She told the Melton Times: “It would appear that my role as planning chair appears to have been caught up in a political crossfire rather than them appreciating my performance and results which, from my view, is extremely disappointing.”
Explaining what happened at that meeting of the Conservative group, Councillor Glancy, who has served on the council for more than six years, said: “I indicated that I could not support a confidential report and its recommentation.
“I didn’t agree with its conclusion, I felt that the report was fundamentally flawed, inadequate and somewhat inaccurate.
“My advice for the Conservative group to delay any decision was disregarded by the leader.
“He decided he didn’t want to go down that route and I couldn’t agree with his decision on that.
“It was somewhat of a surprise the following week that I was removed as a member of the planning committee and thereby removed as chair of that committee under the auspices of a realignment of responsibilities, I think they said.”
She said she had no immediate plans to resign from the Conservative group on the council, however.
It is very unusual for the council to change the chairs of committees outside the annual meeting of the full council.
The loss of the chairmanship role has a financial implication for the two demoted councillors - Pat Cumbers will lose her annual special expenses of £4,334 while Margaret Glancy will lose £3,639. These payments are for extra responsibilites with all councillors paid a basic £4,900 per annum.
In response, Councillor Orson told the Melton Times: “Whilst it is unusual for a reshuffle during a civic year, it is always the responsibility of any leader to put together the strongest team who can work well together for the benefit of the whole borough of Melton.
“The changes made recently set the foundations for the Conservative Group at Melton to move forward and ensure our major projects are delivered for the benefit of our residents.
“Over the rest of this council term we have committed to deliver on our promises to our electorate and these new appointments to committee positions and cabinet will help us achieve our commitments.”
It is understood that Councillor Robert Child is to take over as scrutiny chair while Pam Posnett will be the new chair of planning after previously being vice-chair.
It has been a period of major change in the executive set-up of the council with Councillor Malise Graham being drafted in as acting deputy leader following the suspension of Councillor Leigh Higgins from the Conservative group back in September.
He was alleged to have made sexist comments at a Melton awards evening and the outcome of an investigation into this matter has yet to be announced by the group.
There are now 20 Conservative councillors on Melton Borough Council, plus five who are in opposition to the ruling group and three Independents, all of whom were originally elected on a Tory ticket.