York council has been plunged into disarray with the abrupt departure of two executive members and the leader accused of misleading the public.
In a dramatic few hours at West Offices, one councillor was sacked from his executive post by leader David Carr, and another resigned in response.
And YorkMix understands that senior people within the Conservative Group are now calling on Cllr Carr to resign as council leader.
Cllr Stuart Rawlings was dismissed from his role as education, children & young people portfolio holder on Tuesday (January 23).
He said tonight: “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Dismissed on the spot
Cllr Rawlings, the Conservative member for Rawcliffe and Clifton Without since 2015, says he was sacked after discovering that a family member had an interest in a plot of land connected to the York Local Plan.
In a statement Cllr Rawlings writes:
On 14th December 2017 I became aware of a potential personal interest regarding the Local Plan and immediately advised the leader.
For clarity this does not relate to myself, my wife or any of my children, indeed it is so remote that CYC papers do not even have a section to declare the interest.
This potential interest was then discussed in a joint administration meeting on 9th January.
I immediately declared the issue to the entire executive, the monitoring officer and key officers within the council.
The plot of land in question was only mentioned in the annexe to a report about the Local Plan, and it has since been rejected as a site for development.
As such it has not been included in the draft plan agreed by councillors on Tuesday.
Nevertheless Cllr Rawlings referred himself to the standards committee in an effort to be as open and transparent as possible.
Cllr Carr then asked him to resign. When he refused, he dismissed him on the spot.
Council leader’s statement
The first anyone knew about the changes in the executive came when David Carr’s office released a statement on Tuesday.
Cllr Stuart Rawlings has stepped down from his position as Executive Member for Education, Children & Young People on the City of York Council as of today.
Cllr Rawlings has stepped down for personal reasons, which will not affect his position as a Conservative councillor for Rawcliffe and Clifton Without ward.
Cllr Rawlings has been replaced on the Executive by Cllr Suzie Mercer.
But according to Stuart, that statement is misleading. He did not step down for personal reasons, but was fired.
He said: “The press release issued yesterday was factually incorrect.
“I did not agree or see the release prior to it been issued and I can confirm that the leader dismissed me from the executive with effect from 10am yesterday.”
He added: “I have done nothing wrong. Openness and transparency are core values which I will always stand for and uphold.
“As such I self-referred the issue to the Standards Committee on Monday evening because I believe it is the right thing to do.
“In modern politics the people of York, and in particular my Rawcliffe and Clifton Without Ward, should expect no less.”
Cllr Rawlings wasn’t the only councillor to leave the executive yesterday.
His fellow Rawcliffe and Clifton Without Conservative Sam Lisle has resigned as executive member for housing & safer neighbourhoods.
He quit following the dismissal of Cllr Rawlings.
Cllr Lisle said:
I can confirm that I have resigned from the executive on the basis of irreconcilable differences with the leader.
He didn’t want to comment further. He has been a councillor since May 2015 and on the executive since February last year.
Cllr Rawlings is the third councillor to be dismissed from the executive by David Carr.
Two senior Liberal Democrat councillors in the coalition that runs York – deputy council leader Keith Aspden and culture, leisure and tourism portfolio holder Nigel Ayre – were sacked from their posts last August over what Mr Carr described as “serious” allegations.
No details have been made public as to what those allegations are. A standards investigation is ongoing, but a police probe into certain of the allegations has been dropped.
The Lib Dem group described the action against Cllrs Ayre and Aspden as “unjust, unwarranted and unprecedented”.
Cllr Rawlings said he was “very disappointed” by what had happened, and said he felt “badly treated”.
Unlike the Lib Dem sackings there had not been any investigation or referral to the police.
Council leader David Carr issued a full statement about his decision on Thursday (January 25).
He said he had taken the decision with regret, adding: “As leader of the council, I will not tolerate any behaviour which undermines that trust and confidence.”
You can read his full response here.
Cllr Rawlings said he has received many messages of support from people as news of his dismissal began to leak out.
He held the education, children & young people portfolio for two years.
The department is widely seen as well-run. Last year children’s services in York have been rated ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ aspects by Ofsted.
York’s Safeguarding Children Board was judged by Ofsted to be outstanding.
And before his sacking, Cllr Rawlings was bringing forward plans for the first centre of excellence for disabled children and their families in York.
Given that four executive post holders have left abruptly due directly to Cllr Carr’s decision-making – and the fact that he faces accusations of putting out an inaccurate press statement – his leadership is being called into question tonight.
At least one senior Conservative has written to him calling on him to “consider his position”.