Councillor calls code of conduct complaint ‘politically motivated’ and ‘a calculated attempt to stifle debate’

Deputy council leader Josh Schumann (left) has made a formal code of conduct complaint against Cllr

Deputy council leader Josh Schumann (left) has made a formal code of conduct complaint against Cllr Simon Harries. It follows words used by Cllr Harries at an East Cambs Council meeting. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

An East Cambs Liberal Democrat councillor is facing a code of conduct inquiry after his speech to a district council meeting.

Cllr Simon Harries referred to the council’s involvement in a housing scheme at Kennett as fraudulent or fraud.

Deputy councillor leader Josh Schumann – supported by council leader Anna Bailey and Cllr Julia Huffer – complained to the council’s monitoring officer.

Cllr Schumann alleges the statement was false and is in breach of the code of conduct.

Ms Camp has referred the matter to the independent person appointed by the council to scrutinise complaints prior to deciding if further action is required.

Cllr Harries says the complaint is “politically motivated and is, in my view, a calculated attempt to stifle debate, reduce the range of fair comment and make it harder for the opposition to hold the administration to account”.

He told Ms Camp: “We are engaged in a serious political conflict and the methods used in the past, when debate was essentially one party talking to itself, are simply no longer appropriate. “By agreeing to action yet another frivolous complaint of this kind you risk enabling one political party at the expense of another by intimidating an opponent of the administration, inhibiting me from free speech and setting a negative example to others who may wish to oppose the administration’s policies.

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“This is unacceptable. It is also part of a wider pattern, which was shown in all its distressing clarity at the July 16th council meeting and again at the finance and assets committee meeting a week later.”

Cllr Harries contends that his use of the “fraud” and “fraudulent” was “fair comment, based on well-known and understood, common usage of the words”.

He says the definition of fraud as “misrepresentation (specifically, ‘representing a person or thing as something it Is not’) was precisely what I meant to say about the Kennett and to a lesser extent the Wilburton CLT.

“It also expresses clearly my view about the misrepresentation systematically carried out by the council itself, concerning the way it uses CLTs within its own housing strategy. I do not withdraw this statement. I believe it to be true.” He insists he did not mean financial wrongdoing.

He added: “On mature reflection, I do acknowledge that the word fraud was unhappily chosen as it has detracted from the real issues I wished to raise.

“It is a fact that I was asked to speak on this subject at the very last moment and was not as prepared as I like to be. I would have done better to use the words ‘mislead’, ‘misrepresent’ and ‘manipulate’ in describing council conduct.”