Bomb-threat member axed

A LEADING councillor who refused to resign after making a remark about bombing a travellers site has now been forced out of South Cambridgeshire District Council s cabinet. A change to the rules at SCDC gave its new leader, Councillor Ray Manning, the po

A LEADING councillor who refused to resign after making a remark about bombing a travellers' site has now been forced out of South Cambridgeshire District Council's cabinet.

A change to the rules at SCDC gave its new leader, Councillor Ray Manning, the power to choose who is in the cabinet, dismiss people who fail to do a good job or embarrass the authority, and decide who does what.

His first move was a cabinet re-shuffle in which Independent Councillor Deborah Roberts was sacked. Another Independent, Councillor Mark Howell, from Papworth was brought in to look after environmental health.

It is believed the changes have been introduced as a result of a Standards Board for England decision not to punish Cllr Deborah Roberts after she threatened to blow up a travellers' site and bullied staff.

Cllr Roberts had refused to resign and, until the changes were voted through last Friday, she could not be removed from the cabinet.

The new rules, which have brought the council into line with most other English local authorities, have been made in the hope of making the council stronger and in the belief that they would lead to more clearly defined decision-making.

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Cllr Manning said: "It looks as if I'm trying to take over everything, but I think it would have been a mistake not to make these changes. South Cambs could have adopted this system five years ago, but it chose the weak model.

"I'm no longer tied by political proportionality, but I've kept the cabinet make-up exactly the same as previously. The big advantage is that I could now ask any member, of whatever party, to take over a portfolio if I thought they would do a good job."

Former leader, Cllr Daphne Spink, takes over Cllr Roberts's housing portfolio, and Independent Cllr Simon Edwards becomes deputy leader.

SCDC is braced for a seriously critical report by the Audit Commission, the local government watchdog, on Thursday. Cllr Manning accepts that part of the problem was that the council's precept - which was set to double last April from a very low base - was capped.

"If we had put Council Tax up in previous years, we wouldn't have needed to double it last year. That was the first mistake. But when we were capped people started flailing around in every direction.

"Everything was suddenly driven by money, not by what we wanted for the district - what we had been elected for. It makes people very fractious and difficult."

Although the council has sufficient income to fund core services, at least for the time being, it is looking at ways to fund future service improvements. It is expecting a report in May on the feasibility of selling its housing stock, as Huntingdonshire did in 2000.

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