March 18, 2022 4.30 pm

Councillor accused of only attending meeting to keep allowances in row over absences

Accuser called “disrespectful” during exchange

A row over ongoing councillor absence has erupted at South Kesteven District Council after accusations a member only attended a meeting to keep his allowances and avoid triggering a by-election.

The authority’s Governance and Audit Committee on Wednesday was discussing internal audit reports when Independent Councillor Ashley Baxter diverted from his point to say: “I’d just like to welcome [Grantham Barrowby Gate Ward Conservative] Councillor [John] Cottier, he’s got in just before the deadline.

“If he hadn’t arrived [at a meeting] before the end of March he would have caused a by-election so I guess it’s worth the trip.”

Chairman, Independent Councillor Paul Wood told Councillor Baxter his comments were “irrelevant to the committee” to which Councillor Baxter responded: “Not as irrelevant as Councillor Cottier.”

According to SKDC’s website since October 1, 2021, Councillor Cottier had not attended one of the eight meetings he was expected at and has submitted only one apology for his absence.

The Local Government Act 1972 states that when a council member fails to attend any meeting for six consecutive months from the date of their last attendance, they cease to be a member of the authority, unless the council accepts a reason for the failure to attend before the six-month period expires.

Vice Chairman Conservative Councillor Kaffy Rice-Oxley said the comments were “disrespectful” before the committee was moved on by the chairman, however, 10 minutes later, she again called for him to apologise.

“I find this incredibly disrespectful to a fellow elected councillor. It’s notably not the first time recently that councillor Baxter has been disrespectful to another councillor,” she said.

Councillor Baxter did not apologise, telling councillors: “I think the people of Grantham Barrowby Gate will find it disrespectful that the councillor hasn’t turned up for five and a half-months… and he’s come here today, he’s not part of the committee.

“By coming here today he’s saved the authority some money by not having a by-election and he also keeps his allowances for another five months.”

Conservative Councillor Adam Stokes also leapt to Councillor Cottier’s defence calling Councillor Baxter’s attitude “absolutely disgraceful”.

“He doesn’t know the personal circumstances and frankly I think it’s absolutely appalling to do that in a public meeting when the councillor isn’t a member of the committee.

“It’s not relevant to the agenda.”

Councillor Baxter still did not apologise and repeated that the chairman had moved the meeting on.

He did, however, take to Twitter to point out other absence levels from council members.

Councillor Cottier has been asked for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.