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Councillor granted six-month absence from meetings because he is working in India

A Stone community leader has been granted permission to be absent from borough council meetings until September because he is currently working in India.


Jon Powell, who represents Walton as a Stafford Borough councillor and Walton North on Stone Town Council, has been temporarily seconded to Jaipur by Staffordshire-based manufacturing giant JCB.

Deputy council leader Rob Kenney, who spoke in his Stafford Borough Independents colleague’s absence at the latest full borough council meeting, said Councillor Powell was working there for six months. He was still available to respond to residents and had already been in touch with them while he was away, Councillor Kenney added.

Councillors at Tuesday’s meeting were asked to waive a six-month councillor attendance rule for Councillor Powell. But not all councillors voted to approve their colleague’s absence however.

Opposition group leader Jeremy Pert said: “When looking at the ethical elements of what’s being proposed, it seems to me this differs significantly from the previous times we have given dispensation to members who have been absent from this council because those members were seriously ill. I thought ‘let’s see what the LGA (Local Government Association) advice is on this’ and I started with the Government’s website about councillors.

“It said councillors are elected to their local council to represent their own local community, so must either live or work in the area. The councillor’s role centres around community leadership and engagement – responsibilities include representing the ward in which they are elected, decision making, developing and reviewing council policy and scrutinising decisions.

“I wondered how that was possible when you’re not actually in this country and not even on this continent. The final element that caused me concern was there is a space being taken up on this council that someone else could have adequately fulfilled, who would have been in this country and would have been doing the work representing their ward, who would have been able to turn up to meetings and scrutinise the work of this council and be involved in policy and decision-making.”

Councillor Powell told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) his experiences of working in India would hopefully enable him to serve his community in Stone better in the future. He added that he was keeping in contact with his councils on a daily basis thanks to modern technology.

He said: “I was disappointed to see that Councillor Pert only tried to see negativity in the request, not the benefits that could be brought to the council with one of its councillors gaining such an experience, as a healthy council should always pull on the knowledge and experience of its councillors to benefit the borough. The experience of being in Jaipur is turning into a unique one; my eyes are being opened up to many things, good and bad, knowing that my time here is having a long-lasting effect on me.

“When I was given the secondment opportunity from my employer, I immediately looked at the rules on councillors requesting a leave of absence. I took advice, seeing the secondment not only as a progress in my own career, but also a unique opportunity to help my own personal development.

“We cannot blinker ourselves only to our own front doorstep, but we must try to understand how we sit and interact with in the wider community and the rest of the world. Walton and Stone have a multicultural community from many differing backgrounds, which I try to serve as best I can, hopefully being able to serve them better in the future due to my experience of working in India for six months.

“I also embrace our modern ways of communication in a similar way as I communicate with my ward members when I am at home, similar to other councillors who work full time, as a face-to-face meeting can be hard to arrange. A lot of people find they can communicate sufficiently through emails, phone calls and video meeting platforms and I keep in contact daily with home and any council communications.”

Councillor Powell attended the last full council meeting on November 28. Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972 automatically disqualifies a member from office if they fail to attend any meeting of the authority within a consecutive six-month period, unless the council approves a reason for non-attendance,

Council leader Aidan Godfrey said at Tuesday’s meeting: “We live in an age now where he can represent his constituents – it’s called Teams and we all use it. The law should be changed so we can use Teams in committee meetings, and if it did it would save a lot of people a lot of travelling and some problems would be solved.

“I am disappointed in you Councillor Pert. We’re trying to attract younger people to be councillors – people in their 30s and 40s – and it’s hard enough to get them as it is when they’re in the middle of their careers.

“When we do have somebody who fits that criteria, who is an intelligent person representing his constituents well, who makes a great contribution to this authority and wants to stay on this authority, but has a career and has to do things an employer insists that you do to further that career, we should help people.”

Councillor Gillian Pardesi, referring to occasions when sitting Conservative MPs had appeared on TV show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! added: “I want to remind members opposite that Councillor Powell is going to be working. Unlike members of the political family opposite he is not going into the jungle as a celebrity.”

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