December 13 2013 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Alan Melton retained the leadership of Fenland Council in a crucial confidence vote but not before colleagues had given him a two hour grilling.
In what was described by one as a “bruising encounter” Mr Melton defended his leadership during a stormy meeting of the ruling Conservative group.
Mr Melton had called an extraordinary meeting of the council’s 32 Tory members (two were absent, one through illness and the other is still suspended) in the wake of the resignation of his portfolio holder for finance.
John Clark sensationally quit last month, widely circulating an email in which he alleged the leader had lost control of the party and the council and questioning his external business links and council allowances.
But Mr Melton successfully defended himself, refuting all the allegations and accusing a handful of critics of undermining him personally and his role as leader.
Last night Mr Melton issued a brief statement in which he would only say that “a meeting of the Fenland Conservative Group endorsed the leader of Alan Melton”.
Tackled later he would only add: “We move on”.
Another councillor spoke of the meeting – at which a vote of confidence was taken- as being “not quite a blood bath but nearly”.
During the meeting councillors criticised Mr Melton’s leadership style, alleging at times he appeared “dictatorial” whilst others were disparaging of his handling of last year’s supermarket debate at Whittlesey which ended with members of the planning committee being sacked.
One councillor questioned why he had sacked Phil Hatton from the chairmanship of the planning committee whilst another criticised the council for not bringing in a barrister to handle the controversial supermarket issue. Officers had recommended Tesco should get approval for a scheme at Whittlesey but after a divisive debate, and two meetings of the planning committee, approval was given for a rival scheme which means Sainsbury will be allowed to build on land in Eastrea Road. A public meeting in the town had overwhelmingly supported the Sainsbury bid.
Mr Melton was believed to be going away for the weekend but is not expected to make any immediate changes to his Cabinet team – the replacement for Mr Clark already having been decided. Whittlesey councillor Kay Mayor was appointed to that role following Mr Clark’s resignation.
However Kit Owen, a former Cabinet member and in the final weeks of a six month suspension, can expect an early return to a major role, probably as chairman of the licensing committee which was previously held by Mrs Mayor.
Also expecting an early return is Jan French, one of those sacked by Mr Melton last year as the supermarket issue flared. She has supported him during the recent leadership crisis and can expect a reward, possibly as a committee chairman or a role back in Cabinet.