Councillors on Christchurch BC who supported the council’s abolition as part of wider plans to reorganise local government in Dorset have described their subsequent removal from council committees as “unfounded, unfair and vindictive”.
The council approved numerous changes to committees on Tuesday, just seven months before it is disbanded and replaced by a new unitary authority covering Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.
A handful of councillors who openly supported that plan have now been removed from positions on planning, resources, licensing and community committees.
Council leader David Flagg (Con) said he had made the changes because he did not believe that the members who had openly supported the Future Dorset restructuring plans could “adhere to the council’s position” as it works towards transition.
Cllr Flagg, who apologised to residents last month after the council failed in its legal attempt to block reorganisation, said: “As leader of the council, I need to be certain that all committees within the council are led by members that I’m confident will work towards a transparent and common aim on behalf of our residents.
“I do not believe that those who have acted against the agreed council position can achieve this.”
The leader’s proposal came under fierce criticism by councillors who were removed from their committees.
Claire Bath (Con), who was removed from the planning committee but added to the scrutiny committee, said: “It appears that the proposed committee member changes… are a result of a bitterness felt by those councillors who did not support the Future Dorset proposals, now that their judicial review has failed, towards the councillors who looked at the bigger picture of affordability of services to our residents.
“The current council structure is not what makes Christchurch special. The comments made that those councillors who support the new structure want to destroy Christchurch are unfounded, unfair and vindictive.
“The councillors who perpetuated ‘project fear’, scaring residents into believing that a new structure will be the end of Christchurch should be disgusted at their behaviour. Our job as elected members is to protect frontline services for our residents, not to protect our own roles.”
Former planning committee chair Lisle Smith (Con) described the changes as “narrowing of democracy that is based on emotion and not objective, strategic thinking”, adding that all new planning committee members would need to trained before they could take decisions.
Susan Spittle (Con) described the proposal to change the membership of the committees as “vindictive and asinine”, having likened it to “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.
However, David Jones (Con), who supported the committee restructure, described complaints by other members as “artificial”, before saying: “We do not agree with Future Dorset, it will damage this borough.”
Cllr Jones then pointed to the council’s motto of “for fidelity and freedom”, saying that “it is because nine of us didn’t stick to the first that all of us have lost the second.”
The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole shadow authority is currently recruiting for a new chief executive to start before Christmas, with a launch date of 1 April 2019.