Colyton councillor breached code of conduct

Veteran councillor Bob Collier ordered to apologise to youth centre trustees for disparaging remarks

VETERAN Colyton parish councillor Bob Collier has been officially censured for bringing his office into disrepute

A district council standards committee found that he breached the code of conduct when he made remarks about the town’s new Reece Strawbridge Youth Centre.

It was alleged that Mr Collier, while attending a gathering of council officials at Seaton Town Hall, in October, made certain disparaging comments about the centre’s finances, to John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council – the project’s principal funder.

Now, following an investigation, East Devon District Council standards committee has issued the following statement:

“On July 29th 2011, the assessment and hearings sub-committee of the standards committee of this council considered the investigation into a complaint against Councillor Bob Collier, of Colyton Parish Council.

“The committee found that in making comments on October 26th, 2010, about the Reece Strawbridge Centre to Councillor John Hart of Devon County Council, Councillor Robert (Bob) Collier, of Colyton Parish Council, brought his office into disrepute and therefore failed to follow paragraph five of the Code of Conduct.

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“The committee has decided to sanction Councillor Collier by censure and for Councillor Collier to write a letter to the Reece Strawbridge Trust apologising for his comments to Councillor John Hart about the centre, which Councillor Collier has agreed to undertake.”

The standards committee found that Councillor Collier did not breach the code of conduct after investigating two further allegations.

These were that “through his comments at a meeting of Colyton Parish Council on November 8 he brought his office into disrepute” .

That “he used or attempted to use his position to improperly confer a disadvantage on the Reece Strawbridge Trust”.

In his report to the council the investiagting officer said:

“When he spoke to Councillor Hart, Councillor Collier was not well informed about the detailed finances of the Centre and was not in a position to speak about them. He was not justified in telling Councillor Hart that the finances were questionable. He was not correct in saying that the centre was going to cost more than was being stated and that the project was over budget.

“The status of Councillor Hart is highly significant. As the Leader of Devon County Council he is, more than anyone else, responsible for that Council’s budgets. He has a major influence over which projects the county council supports and those that it does not. Councillor Collier’s comments about the Centre were therefore highly sensitive. They had the potential to add support for the project or to be damaging to it.

“Although they were initially inquiring, Councillor Collier’s comments went on to be sceptical and negative about the finances of the centre. Whilst Councillor Hart was not greatly concerned about Councillor Collier’s comments, he found them sufficiently curious and at odds with his own impression that he mentioned them to Roger Grainger.

I found that Councillor Collier did not say that Centre was �100,000 over budget, as quoted in Roger Grainger’s email. He did say, however, that it was over budget. He raised sufficient doubts over the finances for Roger Grainger to be concerned enough to notify Kevin Henman. Kevin Henman was in turn concerned enough to call for an explanation from the trustees.

“Councillor Collier’s comments caused a chain of concern and questions and, although in the end, the County officers were re-assured and no great damage was done, the profile of Colyton and the Reece Strawbridge Centre was raised for the wrong reasons.

“So, what would an objective observer think of these events? Councillor Collier is a prominent figure and politician in Colyton. He would be expected to be an advocate for the town, championing its causes and working to improve its facilities.

Councillor Collier has undoubtedly fulfilled this role over many years of public service on both the Parish Council and the Feoffees.

“He did not, however, act in this way when he told Councillor Hart about the Reece Strawbridge Centre. I believe that an objective observer would be most disappointed in this and feel that Councillor Collier had not lived up to his role as a Colyton councillor.

For this reason, I find that, in this instance, Councillor Collier brought his office into disrepute.”