Northumberland Conservatives have called for the opposition leader to resign following the emergence of serious issues at a Blyth community centre.
However, the Labour chief, Coun Grant Davey, has said he has no intention of standing down, in turn claiming that ‘the sword of Damocles is hanging by its thread’ above Tory leader, Coun Peter Jackson, who ‘can’t find any good news within his administration to crow about.’
The resignation call comes in the wake of serious concerns about what has happened at the Briardale Community Centre, which has been left with a ‘severe cash-flow crisis in the immediate term’ amid reports of staff not being paid. Police have said that they are investigating allegations of theft at the centre.
Coun Jackson, who became leader of Northumberland County Council in May last year, said: “Grant Davey has presided over a shambles as a director of the Briardale Community Centre that has apparently seen money go missing, a police investigation launched and vulnerable people in Blyth put at risk.
“As the former leader of the council, he ran an out-of-control administration with a regeneration company in the form of Arch which has been mired in scandal and has brought shame to Northumberland.
“Coun Davey should resign as Labour leader and as a councillor. If not, it is about time the Northumberland Labour party removed him from office and those councillors that were also directors of Briardale.”
Coun Jackson also highlighted the relationship between Coun Davey and Graham Harper, a former Arch consultant and Labour spokesman, who was also the centre manager at Briardale until recently. Coun Davey said he was not involved in Mr Harper’s hiring as centre manager and declared an interest when he realised that he had made the shortlist for the role.
Responding to the call for his resignation, Coun Davey said: “I find Coun Jackson’s remarks about me presiding over a shambles a little bit of a rhetorical comment. I have no intentions of resigning my seat or position as leader of Northumberland Labour Group at his behest.
“He is a fine one to talk. He, through his own mechanisms and wishes, has led the county council screaming headlong into a multimillion-pound lawsuit from a developer, which, if lost, will damage the council far more than the cuts his party are ladling onto the poorest in society.
“Also, the unprecedented shambles in local-government terms, of dragging officers of the council into his half-baked schemes and being labelled personally liable for his decisions, plus the problems being investigated by the police regarding the Briardale centre and Coun Jackson’s false news statements regarding the company Arch, show to me and all and sundry that the sword of Damocles is hanging by its thread above him and he can’t find any good news within his administration to crow about.”
The lawsuit Coun Davey refers to is the much-publicised legal dispute between property developer Lugano and Northumberland County Council over its planning application for the Dissington Garden Village, near Ponteland, with Coun Jackson, cabinet member for planning John Riddle and chief executive Daljit Lally also named as defendants in the High Court action.
This week, the Newcastle-based company again wrote to all county councillors ‘to ensure all are aware of the extent and scale of the civil case it has brought’ and to explain how the taxpayer could face an estimated £17million total bill for damages and legal costs if the developer wins in court.
Richard Robson, chairman of Lugano Property Group, said most councillors are unaware of the detail of the case and called on authority leaders to be more transparent with the facts.
The council has repeatedly said that it has acted reasonably and lawfully, and that it continues to work with Lugano on its live planning application.
In relation to being named by Coun Jackson, Mr Harper said: "I will, of course, cooperate with any investigation into the Briardale, I would also add this isn't the first time Mr Jackson and his cabal have accused me of things.
"They've accused me over Arch, over issues in the council and I want to reiterate that I would welcome an independent investigation into the actions of Mr Jackson and his cabal over the past 18 months as they've made my life hell."
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service