Bid to honour long-serving councillors sparks ’embarrassing’ political row
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Councillors were “dismayed” and “embarrassed” as discussion on whether to award two former colleagues the freedom of Blaenau Gwent, turned into a political row.
At a full Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council meeting today, councillors discussed a recommendation from a cross party working group, that the Royal British Legion (RBL) and former councillors Brian Scully and Malcolm Dally be given the freedom of the borough.
Working group chairman Cllr John Hill explained that the British Legion is coming up to its 100-year anniversary and that both former councillors had given long and distinguished service to the county.
They had served as councillors for well over 40 years and had been nominated for the honour by Cllr Hedley McCarthy on behalf of the Labour group.
Cllr Hill said: “The working group voted unanimously to recommend both applications for approval by the council.”
Later on in the meeting, Cllr Hill changed his mind and voted against the recommendation believing it would “dilute” the honour.
Cllr Stewart Healy said: “I think it’s totally inappropriate for us to reward doing something that they were paid to do.
“It’s wrong and sends the wrong message to staff and residents.”
Cllr Mandy Moore added: “It’s a day job, acknowledge it with an award or certificate, but freedom of the borough is going a bit too far.”
Cllr McCarthy pointed out that both councillors had for not been paid as councillors for “many years” of their service and believed this argument to be “vacuous.”
Cllr Haydn Trollope said: “I’m dismayed by what I’m hearing, we have given freedom of the borough to former council officers and elected members.”
Cllr Trollope pointed out that the hugely successful British Garden Festival held in Ebbw Vale in 1992, would not have happened without Mr Scully’s work.
Cllr Lynn Elias said that the former councillors had raised £30,000 to £40,000 to Abergavenny’s Nevill Hall hospital during their respective year as mayor.
“Yes, many of us had fall-outs with them, but you put those behind you,” said Cllr Elias.
However, Cllr Healy and Cllr Bob Summers said that they had worked and been councillors for Blaenau Gwent for more than 40 years and that shouldn’t qualify them to receive freedom of the borough.
Deputy leader, Cllr Dai Davies, said: “Times have changed, the reputation of councillors or politicians in general is struggling at the moment
“If we are seen to reward the service of councillors then the public wouldn’t forgive us for it.”
Cllr Mark Holland: “This is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, I know both, had my ups and downs with them and got on with them in other ways, it’s getting a bit political.”
“I feel the way this is going we’re devaluing the whole ethos of this.”
Labour group leader Cllr Steve Thomas said: “What a mess, this is embarrassing.”
Cllr Thomas explained that the working group which recommended the report go to full council had three majority Independent group councillors to two Labour.
Cllr Thomas: “It was put forward in good faith, if there were these issues, surely the best thing to have done would not to have brought it forward.”
Votes for the application was taken separately.
Giving the British Legion freedom of the borough was supported unanimously.
The vote to award Mr Scully and Mr Dally freedom of the borough was lost by 15 votes in favour, 19 against and one abstention.