Face-off at York council after ‘inappropriate’ appointment of suspended councillor

Cllr Nigel Ayre
1 Oct 2017 @ 8.56 pm
| News, Politics

Two separate York council committees are at loggerheads as the authority becomes “more and more mired in controversy”.

The latest row is over the appointment of Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Ayre as planning committee chairman.

Cllr Ayre, along with his fellow Lib Dem Keith Aspden, is currently suspended from the executive of the council.

They face what leader Cllr David Carr described as “serious allegations”.

Yet despite this, the Lib Dems selected Cllr Ayre to be the next planning committee chair. And this decision is said to have “undermined” the investgation into their conduct.

Reputation damaged

[arve url=”https://youtu.be/gEi7rLb9EZY” title=”York Staffing Matters & Urgency Committee” /]

The Lib Dem group’s decision to nominate Cllr Ayre was criticised at a meeting of the staffing matters & urgency committee.

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Janet Looker did not doubt his competence to do the job.

“What I am saying is I do not think it is appropriate that when somebody is currently being considered for breaches of code of conduct, and other issues that have been serious enough to warrant his being asked to step down from the executive, I do not think it is appropriate that that person should take on such a significant chair.”

Cllr Looker added: “I think it damages the reputation of the council and I think it damages the reputation of the planning committee.”

Council and Conservative group leader David Carr said he was surprised by the nomination.

But he said it was a principle that group leaders decide nominations “as they see fit”.

“I am firmly of the view that it is up to councillors Reid and Aspden as the Liberal Democrat group’s leadership to justify and defend their decision in the face of what I believe will be inevitable criticism of their choices, both within and outside the council,” he added.

“I think you’ve put yourselves in a fairly tricky position, and perhaps the rest of the council.”

City of York Council leader Cllr David Carr. Photograph: York Conservatives

Innocent till proven guilty

Speaking for the Lib Dems, Cllr Ann Reid defended their choice.

She said in the past when councillors were reported to the standards committee it was done in private, and they had not been asked to stand down during any investigation.

Cllr Reid said “the people involved have a right to be considered innocent until they’re proven guilty. And that doesn’t appear to be happening here.

“I think these matters are for the group to decide. The whole process is becoming more and more complicated, more and more mired in controversy in the way some things have happened.”

Undermines investigation

The initial investigation into the conduct of Cllrs Aspden and Ayre is being carried out by the standards sub-committee of York council. They met last week to begin their inquiries into the allegations.

Now that committee has responded in dismay to the appointment of Cllr Ayre as planning chair.

Its members, Cllrs Chris Perrett, Mary Cannon and Johnny Hayes, have written twice to the members of the staffing committee to register their concern.

YorkMix has seen a copy of those letters.

In one, they write: “The [standards] sub committee made it clear that there was no prejudgement about the outcome of the investigations into the allegations nor the conclusions of the hearing that would consider those findings.

“We fail to understand why this decision was made to appoint Cllr Ayre at such a difficult point in the investigations.

“We feel that timing of this decision undermines the importance of the standards committee investigations and has ignored our strongly held view as expressed in that letter on the appropriateness of this appointment at this time.”

This article has been amended to remove the incorrect suggestion that Cllr Aspden had been appointed as chair of the economy & place scrutiny committee – he has just been appointed a member of that committee