Chairman of troubled town council refuses to say if he will follow tradition and stand down

The under-fire chairman of Leigh Town Council has refused to confirm whether he will follow tradition and stand down after his first year in office, despite calls for him to quit.

Bernard Arscott is approaching the end of his year in the role and traditionally he would be replaced by the vice-chairman.

The town council has been mired in controversy over Leigh community centre and the suspension and dismissal of the town clerk, which has led to repeated clashes with residents, who have even staged protests.

Earlier this week the YA revealed that Mr Arscott had reported residents to police for criminal damage after a leaflet was stuck to a noticeboard using an “adhesive tape”.

After resident Cate Willoughby commented on Southend West MP Anna Firth’s Facebook post on Wednesday raising concerns about the town council and the police report, the MP responded to say “it is customary for the chair to to serve one year”.

Ms Firth added she “sees no reason why this year should be any different”.

However, Mr Arscott stated there is “nothing” to stop a chairman seeking re-election.

He said: “Look at Canewdon, Noak Bridge and a number of parish councils up and down the country where that doesn’t happen. Our group is going to have a meeting in the next couple of days to decide our position. I’d rather not pre-empt that.

“The Local Government Act doesn’t explicitly state the chairman has to change.”

The council has suffered a number of embarrassing events during Mr Arscott’s term of office, including police being called to town council meetings.

A petition calling on Conservative councillors who were not elected but took their seats after they weren’t contested, to resign and stand for election will be presented at a meeting later this month.

Town councillor Carole Mulroney, said: “There is nothing written in stone, that’s the thing, but traditionally ever since the start of the town council, the chairman has changed every year.”

James Preston, a Leigh resident and member of the Looking After Leigh Facebook group, said he didn’t think a change of chairman would end the problems.

He added: “I think it is likely there will be a change of chairman. The petition that we are putting forward is not necessarily for a change of chairmanship, it’s for accountability for the entire council.

“A change of chair would still give them a majority over the decisions being made.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter

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