Conservative councillor criticised for working over 5,000 miles away from Wales – in Panama
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A Conservative councillor from Wrexham has been criticised over his decision to perform his senior role from over 5,000 miles away in Panama.
It follows the revelation that Andrew Atkinson, Wrexham Council’s lead member for children’s services, has recently been working and attending meetings remotely from Central America.
The Gresford councillor told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he is currently in the country with his family on a “working holiday” ahead of emigrating there permanently at a future date, but did not say when he would return.
His visit comes despite Panama being included on the Welsh Government’s “red list” of countries at high risk from the coronavirus, where people are only advised to travel for essential purposes.
The move has also been challenged as the local authority’s children’s service department’s performance is facing close scrutiny from Care Inspectorate Wales, which identified “significant concerns” last September.
Responding to the news on Twitter, former Plaid Cymru Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, Arfon Jones, said: “I was lead member for children’s social care at Wrexham Council from 2008/12.
“I considered it a full time job even though it wasn’t in special measures them.
“Now it’s in special measures Hugh Jones (Conservative group leader) should appoint a new lead member who can give the scrutiny required to this important service.”
‘Not an easy decision’
Cllr Atkinson previously stood for the Conservatives at the 2015 and 2017 UK general elections, finishing second to Labour’s Ian Lucas on both occasions.
He also ran for the Welsh Senedd in 2016, where he was beaten by Labour rival Lesley Griffiths, before being elected as a councillor in Gresford the following year.
In a post on the Gresford News Facebook page, he announced he would not be standing at next year’s local elections, but said he was still available to answer residents’ e-mails during his time away.
He said: “As a family we’ve made the decision to emigrate, the plan is to move next year so I wanted to let you know clearly that I definitely won’t be seeking re-election.
“If anything changes on this holiday and it looks like it would make more sense to stay on then I will let you know straight away and would then have to resign as your councillor.
“It’s been an honour to serve as councillor for Gresford and 99 per cent of you have been absolutely amazing.
“Not standing again has not been an easy decision but I hope it’s one you can support me with.”
Under government rules, people are currently unable to enter Wales directly from red list countries and must arrive in the UK via England or Scotland instead.
They are then required to isolate at a government-managed quarantine hotel in either country for ten days, with costs starting from £1,750 per person.
However, his decision to work from abroad has been praised by the Wrexham Conservative Association.
Chair Jeremy Kent, who stood for the party at last year’s Senedd elections, said: “Andrew is a hard working and committed councillor and serves Wrexham with distinction.
“It is a credit to him that he would continue to carry out council work whilst enjoying some time away with his family.
“Obviously, if things were to become more permanent, then I have faith Andrew will review the situation.”
He has also been supported by the council’s Conservative group leader Hugh Jones.
He said: “Andrew is currently on leave, which he is entitled to.
“I understand from the Facebook post that he is likely to emigrate next year and is currently carrying out his duties including attending meetings whilst on holiday.
“He has informed both the leader and myself that he is currently on leave.”