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Tory 'Covid councillors' brought in to vote at BCP Council meeting

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AN investigation has been called for after claims that two Conservative councillors who were unwell were brought in to vote at a stormy BCP Council meeting yesterday evening (Tuesday).

Opposition members claimed they and staff were put at risk due to fears over Covid and asked whether they should now get tested, writes Trevor Bevins of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Others complained the meeting was “an affront to democracy” after being adjourned several times for talks to be held off camera.

BCP Council meets at the town hall
BCP Council meets at the town hall

Labour councillor George Farquhar said the incident should be investigated because of the potential risk to staff and has asked for staff unions to be informed of the incident.

At the meeting, Christchurch Independents member Cllr Lesley Dedman said: “Can you tell us if we are in danger? Should we go for a Covid test – we were earlier told to go home because of health issues.”

Cllr Mark Howell told the meeting in its final few minutes – after more than two hours – that although councillors attending meetings with Covid would not break existing government laws, the situation needed to be resolved at a national level.

Cllr Lesley Dedman
Cllr Lesley Dedman

“The Conservative group might might want to bring in members so that they can win a vote," he said.

"That’s perfectly legal under the current situation, but whether it is morally responsible is open to argument.

"Is this going to set a precedent, because Covid is not going to go away.”

He added: “Hopefully this will get some national attention and be considered by parliament as a real issue because it’s going to affect democracy.

"We need to understand the rules going forward.”

Cllr Tony Trent said the evening was “an affront to democracy", adding: "I find it almost unbelievable the way things appear to be being manipulated.

Cllr Phil Broadhead
Cllr Phil Broadhead

"It only goes to show there are some people who shouldn’t be here.”

But Tory deputy council leader Cllr Philip Broadhead described the allegations as “unfounded” and said there has been a lot of emotive language.

“There is a lot of unfounded accusations about members’ health, if they’ve had Covid, how long ago they have tested. As the monitoring officer pointed out, these are unfounded allegations. We don’t know anything about them; that’s why we are adjourning,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Farquhar said: “This is sadly a very reckless and irresponsible action by the Conservative group leadership at BCP Council for political expediency.

“I have written to the chief executive, the chief legal officer and the chair of the council, following their agreement to report this as a Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations incident to the Health and Safety Executive.

“I have further suggested they also inform the Local Government Association and the unions so a dialogue can be started to avoid a repeat of this occurrence at other local authorities."

Councillors voted to adjourn the remainder of the meeting until immediately before the council’s annual meeting in the first week of May.

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