Infighting at Holbeach Parish Council has been likened to the Northern Ireland peace process in a fractious and, at times, bizarre meeting which was even interrupted by violin music over a claim of abusive behaviour.
District councillor Nick Worth, who was among the public watching Monday night’s online meeting, described it as a ‘bonfire being lit” under the council.
The core reasons for the dispute were only alluded to in passing during the meeting, but The Voice understands some councillors have issues with how the authority is being run including in relation to the recent trial of unlocking parks and cemeteries, the subsequent data breach due to the theft of an unsafe CCTV camera, issues arising with the treatment of parish council maintenance staff and delays in publishing accurate minutes and agendas.
The council’s vice chair John Spencer raised the issues in a speech where he called for the council to work together while singling out Coun Isobel Hutchinson telling her “it’s sad your popularity in town ain’t very good”.
He also defended Holbeach Parish Council’s three employees including clerk David Boyce.
Coun Spencer, said: “I’ve been on this council many, many years. At the moment this council is in a bad shape.
“This office is the cogs of the council. Everything should come through it.
“The attitude of some councillors at the moment is out of order with some who don’t know what they’re doing as they haven’t been on the council long enough.
“This arguing and slagging each other off has got to stop as it is undermining the office. We know we have problems but we as a council need to sort this out.
“When I joined years ago one councillor told me that in the first three months not to say a word. I abide by that. I’ve got Holbeach council in my heart and I’m shocked and appalled at the way it’s performing.
“It’s like trying to sort out the Northern Ireland Peace Treaty and that was bloody difficult.”
Coun Spencer also alluded to complaints about the council having been made to South Holland District Council’s Standard Committee by saying:
“We do not want South Holland getting too involved in this for the sake of this council.”
The Voice asked the district council how many complaints had been made about the parish council but had not received a response at the time of going to press.
“This council needs to be run properly,” Coun Carol Rudkin told the meeting while sitting next to parish council chair and husband Coun Graham Rudkin.
“I can’t imagine what those parish councillors who are no longer with us would make of it,” she said. “It needs to be run like it used to be.”
In response to being singled out, Coun Hutchinson said: “I have no problem with the clerk. The clerk has a bigger one with me .
“I say what I believe is right for the council.
“We do need to work together and need to agree but what we should be looking after is our parishioners.”
After the meeting she sent out an email to all councillors in which she said she’d met with Coun Spencer for a “civil and, I felt, constructive meeting.”
“I can only speak for myself when I say that I have no issue with the clerk as such however I do have an issue with the council not dealing with issues that are clearly destroying the council and so preventing us from achieving things for the town,” Coun Hutchinson’s email continued. “The staff issues have been going on for many months if not years and we have tried to deal with these in various ways none of which have worked or been followed through so we now have one big mess that needs to be dealt with.
“Moral of staff and councillors is at rock bottom and until we get a grip of these issues this will not improve.
“Difficult conversations and decisions need to be made and we all need to be listened to.”
The parish clerk David Boyce, told the meeting that he was “happy to try and work” with Coun Isobel Hutchinson and her daughter Sophie who is also a councillor.
He also began to talk about abusive behaviour he claimed to have suffered but was cut off when a member of the public viewing the meeting began playing a recording of a violin down the line.
Later in the meeting, Coun Sophie Hutchinson tabled a proposed new complaints procedure for the council which was deferred due to the majority of councillors having not read it.
District councillor Nick Worth tweeted on Tuesday morning after watching as a member of the public: “A bonfire was truly lit under Holbeach Parish Council last night.
“What will emerge from the ashes I am not sure, but some of the things said would make a Standards Board shudder.
“Airing your dirty linen in public is one thing, but last night’s airing will do them no favours.”