Opposition councillors at North East Lincolnshire Council have failed in their bid to oust authority leader Councillor Philip Jackson over business links between his former deputy leader and a convicted fraudster.
A Labour motion before the authority’s full council on Thursday called for a vote of no confidence in Conservative Councillor Jackson, accusing him of failing to take decisive action or an independent investigation into Councillor John Fenty’s links with convicted fraudster Alex May.
Councillor Fenty stood down as deputy leader in December 2020 after it was revealed the former chairman of Grimsby Town FC had invited Mr May to meet with club directors, and that the convicted con artist had also met with senior council officials.
Mr May, formerly known as Alick Kapikanya, led a gang targeting elderly house-owners in 2007 in Manchester. He managed to steal £3.5 million and tried to steal another £3.3 million.
He was jailed for six years for his part in the scam.
He had started a company with Councillor Fenty but, according to the latter, it had never started trading and they had since split as business partners.
Labour said Councillor Jackson standing down would “give the council a fresh start”.
Members said a full investigation should have taken place into any conflicts of interest at meetings with Mr May and who was in attendance, with allegations made that residents were continuing to question the events or even “laughing” at the council.
Labour leader Matthew Patrick said: “Despite the welcome and much-needed resignation of Councillor Fenty from his cabinet position, the leader […] who appointed Councillor Fenty despite protests from opposition members, has failed to either act decisively in the public interest over events, or be seen to do so.
“Councillor Jackson has failed in his duty to uphold the integrity of his office, failed to meet the standard of conduct expected by residents, and moreover, has allowed his cabinet to risk being seen to breach the Nolan principles of office.”
Fellow Labour member Councillor Debbie Rodwell said there were a number of unanswered questions and that there hadn’t been an opportunity previously to raise the issue in a public forum.
She accused Councillor Jackson of avoiding questions asked at previous meetings.
“We’re always saying is, it’s really important to be transparent. And on this issue we feel that the councillor just wasn’t transparent, and the public deserves answers,” she said.
However, Councillor Jackson said the move was a “shallow political stunt in the run up to the elections”.
“If Councillor Patrick really believes that Councillor Fenty and I have failed to uphold the integrity of our respective offices or not met the standard of conduct expected, then why has it taken him three months to take any action when there is a process for exactly this sort of situation within the council’s constitution,” he said.
“He’s failed to do this, so he’s the one who’s demonstrating lack of leadership.”
He said he was satisfied that councillor Fenty had acted “assiduously” in stepping away from his role and added that no member of the public had made a formal complaint or triggered the standards process.
“This motion is long on innuendo rumour and allegations, which have no substance.”
Councillor Jackson then went on to list what he considered the failure of leadership of his opposite member, including the Toll Bar Roundabout, children’s services and alternatives to the Tory budget.
“This is a distraction from the important progress that this administration under my leadership is making.
He added that, instead, Councillor Patrick should be the one to resign.
Councillor Jackson was backed by his party, including Councillor Ron Shepherd, who said his leader had the full support of colleagues.
“Councillor Jackson leads from the front and has spearheaded the group’s rise to being the party in administration,” he said.
Humberston and New Waltham councillor Stan Shreeve was appointed as the new deputy leader of the council following Councillor Fenty stepping down.
Councillor Fenty remains a councillor for Humberston and New Waltham, but has previously confirmed he does not intend to stand again in May.
Following the revelations, Grimsby Town Football Club revealed they had rejected Mr May’s offer to the club.