A MAVERICK councillor has resigned in anger from Stafford’s ruling Conservative party branding the administration “corrupt”.Stafford borough councillor for Milford, Robert Stephens, stepped down from his party citing “institutional apathy towards the interests of the taxpayer”.
Councillor Stephens said: “After 18 months of attending group meetings, during which time I have had to wrestle with my conscience and bite my tongue, I can no longer justify my complicit silence in what I believe to be a corrupt system of administration that favours patronage and length of service in detriment to the best interests of Conservative Party policy and the taxpayers of Stafford Borough.”
A former magistrate, member of the Independent Monitoring Board of Stafford Prison and borough councillor in Shrewsbury, Councillor Stephens was elected in May 2011.
After helping with Jeremy Lefroy’s successful 2010 General Election campaign, he said he felt obliged to help the Conservative party administer local government in Stafford.
Councillor Stephens has been at odds with the Conservative group on the bor- ough council even before backing a Labour Party motion to look into paying council staff the living wage.
Councillor Stephens believes it was his willingness to oppose the cabinet that led to the Conservative group reversing their support for his own Works Contract Policy, a measure that would have ensured
all work or contracts procured by the council were advertised, giving more small and local businesses the opportunity of bidding for council work.
Currently, only work over the European Union threshold of £173,000 has to go out to tender by law. Up to this figure, heads of service can invite quotes from businesses and only have to provide three written quotes.
“My proposals would help the council ensure best value by opening up council contracts to many more small and local businesses,” said Councillor Stephens. “It is fair, open and transparent.
“The final straw was Councillor Ken Williamson, cabinet member for resources, branding the idea stupid that led to my decision to break with group rules and criticise his policy publicly.”
Councillor Williamson, however, refuted the claim he had called the idea was stupid.
"In fact I am fully supportive of reducing the threshold we advertise our contracts at – and this has been recommended by an all-party task and finish group," he said. "I described it as ‘stupid’ for him to ask members of that group in an email to support a proposal before they had actually met to hear any evidence – and there were a number of other councillors who were there when I said this."
“Asking people to vote before seeing and examining the findings, I feel, is inappropriate and does not make for transparent and open local government.”
Mike Heenan, leader of the Conservative controlling group on Stafford Borough Council said: "I'm disappointed this has occurred. But as a group we will continue concentrating all our energies on taking tough decisions to ensure we give good value for our council tax payers and businesses.
"The best interests of the tax payer are at the very heart of everything we do," he said. "And this is not just us saying it - look at the favourable report from the independent audit commission which says we are a well-managed council and has praised us for improving services.”
Councillor Heenan also denied the claim that support had been withdrawn for Councillor Stephen's works contract policy.
"An all-party group has recently recommended significantly reducing the threshold for advertising contracts," he said.
Councillor Stephens said he would continue on the council as an independent and he looked forward to holding the administration to account on behalf of the people of Milford and the taxpayers of Stafford Borough.