New leader of Southend Council accused of bullying

Southend City Council’s new leader has been accused of bullying less than two weeks after vowing to end the “toxic” atmosphere in the administration.

Stephen George formed a Labour led joint administration with Lib Dems and Independents at a council meeting to install him as the new leader.

He has been accused of bullying after attempting to remove a councillor from a working party which a majority of councillors voted him on to.

Despite their allegiance to the administration, the Independent group sided with Conservatives to appoint Keith Evans, non-aligned Independent councillor for Blenheim Park ward, to the HARP homeless charity working party. Councillors also voted for him to take a place on the newly formed Armed Forces working party due to his 26 years in armed services.

Cllr George has however, asked that he step aside on the Harp working party to make way for former Labour mayor Margaret Borton.

Cllr Evans said: “I held the appointment to an outside body, HARP, last year so I particularly wanted to continue with this. Apparently they didn’t want me to. They hold the balance of power but I won the vote.

“I don’t know how to resolve this other than for me to resign a position given to me democratically so I will carry on for now. This is an unnecessary saga when there are far more important things to worry about.”

In an email to Cllr George, Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative Group, said: “Asking a councillor, a non aligned councillor attached to no group, who has been elected to an outside body by this council to resign because one of your members lost a vote is bullying.”

In a response, copied to the press by Cllr George, he said: “I still believe that without the support of the Conservatives, Keith Evans would not have been elected as the council’s representative to HARP, and that the simplest way of resolving this matter would be for him to resign.

“I certainly do not believe, given that I left the possibility of another role with that organisation or another outside body open, that this can be construed as bullying.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter