“No confidence” call over snow-hit meeting

Date: Monday 12th March 2018

A ROW has broken out after an Eden Council committee meeting went ahead during last week’s snow storms without five of its usual members.

The council’s human resources and appeals committee took place at Penrith Town Hall on 1st March with five of its nine councillors absent. Two Tory committee members unable to get there have now complained to council bosses that it should have been postponed.

Gordon Nicolson (Con, Lazonby) and John Owen (Con, Shap) have tabled a “no confidence” motion, seeking the resignations of committee chairman John Lynch (Con, Penrith East) and vice-chairman Mike Eyles (Lib Dem, Penrith East).

However, Mr Lynch and Mr Eyles have said the meeting was quorate and fully compliant with the council’s constitution with two more councillors there than the minimum requirement of three. Mr Eyles suggested that the Tory duo should have requested the meeting be cancelled when apologies were made on their behalf.

The committee sat with two Tory members, two Liberal Democrats and a stand-in deputy for the Independents. Also attending was a representative from Solace Group, the West Yorkshire head-hunting firm which has been recruited by Eden Council to find its next boss.

He had travelled to Penrith on Wednesday and stayed overnight in order to make the 10-30am start time. Missing from the discussion was Bibian McRoy, the council’s assistant director of organisational development, whose report was on the agenda, although a deputy HR officer and an Eden Council legal representative were present.

Up for discussion was the recruitment of a replacement for Robin Hooper, who leaves at the end of May.

After the meeting went ahead, Mr Nicolson, with the support of Mr Owen, emailed the council’s deputy chief executive, Matthew Neil, and called for the no confidence motion to go on the agenda for the full council, which met on Thursday.

Mr Nicolson complained that both Mr Lynch and Mr Eyles had permitted the committee meeting go ahead with the “minimal number of members present”, and that there was no councillor from the ruling executive present. Both Mr Owen and committee member Lesley Grisedale (Con, Hesket) are executive members, although Mrs Grisedale could not attend either.

Mr Nicolson said: “A number of members had tendered apologies due to exceptional inclement weather and it is our view that the meeting should have been postponed given the high importance of the agenda item. The decision to proceed with the meeting demonstrates lack of judgement and a lack of respect for other members of the committee.”

Mr Lynch was unavailable for comment, although Mr Eyles denied either had done anything wrong. He stressed that no votes were taken and that the meeting had two more members than the council’s constitution requires for it to be quorate — or valid to go ahead. He said the council’s political balance was also properly represented with two Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats and an Independent around the table.

Mr Eyles said: “Another consideration was that the company representative we were to meet had travelled a great distance to attend. We felt it would have been discourteous for us to cancel at the last minute.”

He said one member of the committee had the “foresight” to arrange a deputy to go in her place, while Mrs Grisedale had wanted to participate via a teleconference.

“Unfortunately, that information was not relayed to the chairman or myself,” said Mr Eyles. He said the purpose of the meeting was simply to talk to the firm about the types of candidates preferred as council chief executive.

In any event, Mr Nicolson’s motion failed to make it on to Thursday’s full council agenda as it missed the council’s deadline by a day. Mr Eyles added that he was “disappointed” because he had wanted the opportunity to defend his reputation, despite having followed the rulebook.

“I would have liked the chance to delve into the motives behind the motion,” said Mr Eyles, who with Mr Lynch, has been among the most vocal opponents of the council’s Heart of Cumbria company, of which both Mr Nicolson and Mr Owen serve as directors.

Eden Council confirmed that the the quorum required for the committee to sit is three.