COMMENTARY by Thurrock Independent Editor Neil Speight
INTRIGUE and comment continues to surround the departure of Tim Aker from Thurrock Council.
Last week Mr Aker, who is also a regional MEP representing the East of England for UKIP, announced his sudden resignation from Thurrock Council, prompting declaration of a by-election in his Aveley and Uplands ward.
There has been considerable speculation about the reasons behind his departure, with political rivals suggesting he â€œjumped before he was pushedâ€ and that Mr Aker had been notified by the councilâ€™s monitoring officer that he was being removed as a councillor for not attending enough meetings.
However, the council acted quickly to scotch those suggestions, declaring â€˜no actionâ€™ had been taken by officers and a statement said that â€œno councillor had been told he or she was in breach of Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972â€. The act defines the amount of time a councillor is allowed to miss meetings before being expelled.
The general rule of thumb is that the councillor must attend meetings or council events at which expenses are able to be claimed to count an appearance as partaking in council business. In Mr Akerâ€™s case it is believed he had not attended a qualifying meeting or event for more than six months.
The councilâ€™s press office went further to emphasise that Mr Aker had not been notified of any possible action, as some councillors briefing members of the media have suggested. â€œThis is simply not true,â€ said a council statement to the Thurrock Independent. â€œNo decision had been taken in this regard.â€
The statement also refuted comments that Mr Aker should not have attended Januaryâ€™s full meeting of the council and that he did so, despite the monitoring officer having been told he was days over the non-attendance record ruling.
Again a formal statement qualified the councilâ€™s position, saying: â€œHad a councillor been found to have been in breach of Section 85 of the LGA 1972, then of course the relevant action would have been taken.â€
Despite this, local Conservative members have continued to brief the press and make public comment, saying Mr Aker was expelled. Over the weekend on the hustings in Aveley and Uplands where the election campaign has already started, Conservative supporters continued to say Mr Aker had not resigned because of his MEP commitments and a relocation outside the area, but because he had been forced out.
In the wake of that, Thurrock Independent editor Neil Speight, who has spoken to all of the councilâ€™s political group leaders about the matter â€“ and other senior members of the councilâ€™s elected body â€“ once again asked for clarification.
And in a repetition of previous statements, the councilâ€™s communication office has confirmed the authorityâ€™s statement that the election commentary of Conservatives on the doorsteps of residents and on social media is untrue.
However, senior members of the Conservative administration have rounded on council officers, telling Mr Speight that officers are acting inappropriately and it is the council that is not telling the truth. Mr Speight has been told that councillors have seen evidence that Mr Aker was contacted.
They have declined to go on the record, citing reasons of â€˜confidentialityâ€™ as the cause though one very prominent councillor said to Mr Speight: â€œThere is nothing to stop you telling the truth.â€
The Thurrock Independent group and the Labour group have also declined to speak â€˜on the recordâ€™ about Mr Akerâ€™s departure, while Mr Aker has himself remained silent other than issuing his initial statement which said: â€œTo be elected twice as councillor for Aveley and Uplands was a great honour.
â€œI have taken this decision for two reasons. Firstly, the crisis created by the shambolic handling of Brexit has forced me to spend almost all of my time at the European Parliament.
“While I have always been able to assist residents via email, phone and house visits, important voting meetings and Brexit debates during the week in Brussels and Strasbourg, have prevented me from being able to fulfil all of the other duties that the role of Councillor demands.
“Secondly, I moved out of the borough last week and I do not believe that it is right for me to continue as a Councillor at Thurrock Council.
â€œAs a result, and with a heavy heart, I have decided that I must resign. I love Aveley and Uplands dearly. However, the residents of Aveley, Kenningtons and the Uplands, my friends and neighbours, need a Councillor who is able to give them the time that they deserve.
“I will of course continue to support my dear friends within the Thurrock Independents.”
While no official candidates have yet been declared, it is believed that former pop star David Van Day will again be carrying the Tory torch in the forthcoming by-election, which is set to take place in mid March.
He fought the ward against Mr Aker in May last year, polling 653 votes against Mr Aker’s winning 1,037. Labour’s Rafal Zak received 570 votes and UKIP’s Peter Curtis 141.Â
It is not yet known who will be standing in his way from Labour and the Independents as he bids for a seat at the second time of asking.