Anger at Labour councillor’s disqualification forces shut down of Thanet council meeting

Ian Vanables with supporters outside the council office

A Thanet council meeting was shut down tonight (October 11) as furious supporters shouted from the public gallery in protest at an authority decision to disqualify Labour councillor Ian Venables.

Margate Central ward councillor Ian Venables, who was elected in 2017, has been disqualified by the authority from serving the ward after taking a role with new homelessness team RISE.

Ian Venables

Thanet council says that means he is now indirectly employed by the authority but Mr Venables’ lawyers have argued that he remains with his current employer the Forward Trust at the isle’s drug and alcohol service.

Tonight councillors were due to pass a vote to declare the Margate Central ward vacant but anger in the public gallery at the circumstances of the disqualification, and claims that it was incorrect, forced chairman Cllr David Saunders to first threaten to have the public gallery cleared and then, when supporters refused to leave, to adjourn the meeting until Monday.

Thanet council says Mr Venables has been disqualified under section 80(1)(a) of the Local Government Act 1972 with effect from 1 August 2018.

The council says: “Under the Act a councillor is disqualified from holding office as councillor, if they hold ‘paid office or employment or an appointment’ which is made or confirmed by the council.”

But the decision is being challenged by Labour Party lawyers who say Mr Venables is an employee of the Forward Trust and not the council.

He was put forward by the Trust and a council officer for a place of the RISE multi-agency group that will work with those sleeping rough on issues including rehousing, mental health and addiction.

The secondment was due to Mr Venables expertise from 25 years with the drug and alcohol service.

 Iris Johnston 

Angry Labour colleague Iris Johnston told the meeting: “This is the first time in my 24 years as a councillor that I have seen a vacancy announced at a council meeting in this way.

“This item should be withdrawn. We are walking up a very dangerous path. I’m proposing this item is withdrawn as lawyers are locked in battle on this.”

Cllr Johnston reiterated that Ian Venables is an employee of the Forward Trust and said the report to councillors was inaccurate and ‘misleading.’ She demanded a recorded vote, adding: “I do not want my name tarnished with this decision.”

Her call was backed by fellow councillors Karen Constantine, Peter Campbell and Michelle Fenner who all argued an announcement should not be voted on while there was legal dispute over the disqualification.

Cllr Stuart Piper

Thanet Independent Councillors group leader Stuart Piper said it should go on record that Mr Venables “had not misbehaved in any way” and that the situation left “a very very bad taste in the mouth.”

The council’s legal officer told the meeting the vote was to declare the ward vacant and that: “the council has no choice in the matter, it has to declare the vacancy,” and Mr Venables could challenge his disqualification “in the courts.”

Shouts of “there is no vacancy” from the gallery drowned out Tory councillor Bill Hayton as he spoke in favour of the vote.

Cllr Johnston said the council particularly recommended Mr Venables and that the Trust had asked whether this would affect his councillor role.

She added: “Ian Venables has been disqualified because this council got it wrong.”

The vote on the announcement was abandoned with the chairman declaring the meeting over.

County councillor Barry Lewis said the Labour Party wants to see the legal advice given to Thanet council.

Thanet Labour Party spokesman John Gibson said: “Cllr Venables has been a victim of a series of poor advice from TDC. He should be reinstated on the council, so that he can carry out the duties he was elected for by Margate residents. I have full confidence in Cllr Ian Venables, and he has the support of the local Labour party.”

19 Comments

  1. We will never give up on democracy, I call on all Labour supporters to come to the council offices at 6/00 on Monday to continue our peaceful demonstration ,against this illegal action by the Tory council to throw out a democratically elected councillor.

    • In what way is shouting and yelling at a council spokesperson during an official council meeting and getting it cancelled “peaceful demonstration” and in the interests of democracy? The council is following the law – any errors it made beforehand in agreeing to Venables’new role do NOT cancel the existing law;but then,Corbyn’s Labour Party activists have no real interest in democracy as such,so they – intimidation and disruption are their weapons of choice,just like back in the 70s and 80s…

      • What the “existing law” is can only be determined by a judge; the council is following a legal OPINION, which appears to have changed.

        If any company that is employed by the council (or, presumably, the national government) in any capacity automatically disqualifies every one of its employees from public office, that is a huge thing and, yes, we need to know that. However that was not the advice the council gave when Mr Venables and his employer asked before his appointment was made.

        As I said before, establishing the rights of this in court would be at great public expense and may result in Mr Venables reinstatement to both positions and a substantial damages payment out of public funds. It is in everyone’s interests – not least that of council tax payers – for sensible discussions to resolve this matter in a fair and equable manner.

      • Frank Jones – you could not have put it better and I applaude your post. Rent a mob/gobs are sadly the norm today, especially with Corbyns Labour people. How these people can revert back to such behaviour of the 70/80’s is beyond me. My father will be turning in his grave !

        • Couldn’t have put it better?

          Once again, the pertinent issue is not noise from the public gallery but preventing misconduct – and possibly actionable miscounduct – by TDC.

          It is customary, when applying for any job with any council, to be asked a question about being a councillor or related to one. With the current neo-Thatcherite passion for outsourcing rather than direct public employment, the question obviously arises of the status of employees of the companies or charities engaged and there should have long since been a clear, written Code of Conduct that could have been referred to when TDC WAS DIRECTLY ASKED ABOUT IT before Mr Venables accepted the offer of a secondment by his own employer.

          It seems TDC made a thorough hash of this one way or the other.There is no question, therefore, that it is TDC’s responsibility to put things right and apologise to Mr Venables. Trying to penalise Mr Venables simply compounds the error!

  2. It seems to me that TDC are quite wrong to say that Cllr Ian Venables should be disqualified. We will fight this. This is frankly a waste of tax payers money. Thanet District Councillor have much more important issues to deal with.

  3. Yet again TDC Officers and iffy legal advice..
    There are many questions as to the Officers abilities and knowledge of procedures ..
    The CEO and the whole SMT needs to be subject to a very close scrutiny from very senior Civil Servants .
    Over the past years there has been continual poor advice given to Councillors, and lack of accountability goes unchallenged…This cannot be permitted to continue…. Its costing us £Millions !

  4. Calling all Labour members and supporters , assemble at 6/00 Monday evening at Margate council offices to peacefully demonstrate at the illegal deselection of Cllr Ian Venables, we must oppose unelected officers deciding who are councillors

  5. Ian Venables has been a very good councillor and should stay in his role. We have had bad councillors recently, criminals, wife beaters, liars and thieves etc etc – who all kept their seats . So we know what bad councillors look like. And Ian is not one of them!

    • I used to teach English so I can’t leave a spelling mistake unnoticed! DEFINITELY can’t. As for your comment, it needs a bit more detail on why you think Ian is not a good councillor. He’s working in a difficult field and understands the needs of his community. Is that a bad thing?

    • I like the way this anonymous correspondent doesn’t want their spelling mistake overlooked so puts it in capitals…

  6. They are not throwing out a councillor! They are following a legal position advised to them, right or wrong, and have little choice. A peaceful demonstration is OK but rent a gobs are not. I am sure the ratepayers are picking up yet another large legal bill in the name of democracy as we did for animal shipment debacle at Ramsgate Port and Ferry service costs.

    • “Following a legal position advised to them, right or wrong”? Is that now the standard of behaviour for a democratic body? And they “have little choice”? In that case why do we bother to elect and pay for councillors at all – why don’t all political decisions just go to the legal department for rubber stamping?

      Legal advice is just that, legal ADVICE. Councillors are elected as our representatives to consider all factors – including common sense. If the council has c*cked up – and one way or another it clearly has – then the council needs to put it right.

      The council has to take responsibility for the advice it gave before and either stand by it, or apologise to Mr Venables, compensate him for the distress caused by giving wrong advice and ensure his future employment and prospects are in no way harmed by its actions.

      It isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense and common decency. And that is the bare minimum we have a right to expect from our elected representatives.

  7. As I understand it from listening last night, Ian Venables specifically asked when this new role was offered to him by the Forward Trust whether there would be any chance of a legal conflict of interest with his role as a councillor. The question was therefore immediately raised, before the appointment was made, with TDC, which assured the Trust in writing that there was not.

    Unless that had been the case, Ian would undoubtedly have remained in his previous role with the Forward Trust rather than sacrifice his role as councillor, which he clearly takes very seriously, and this situation would never have arisen. It is therefore TDC’s error – if, indeed, error it is – and Mr Venables would have a clear case for considerable compensation for the damage to his career and reputation, should he choose to take such action. Which would have to come out of TDC’s already stretched finances.

    It looks like the Council needs to do some serious thinking about how to best serve the people it purports to represent. Someone – that someone neither Mr Venables or his employer – has screwed up. Now is not a time to make a bad thing worse.

  8. Quite right Margaret, if compensation is awarded to Ian , the council will be liable for massive bill, could be argued the individual councillors who vote for the illegal expulsion of a democratic elected councillor will also be liable?, hope they got deep pockets

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