Fury as Swale councillors Alan and Jean Willicombe move 150 miles away from Sittingbourne to Lincolnshire but still claim allowances
A former mayor and mayoress of Swale are being urged to resign after moving almost 150 miles away – while remaining as councillors.
Tories Alan and Jean Willicombe set up home in Gedney Drove End, in Lincolnshire, earlier this month.
However, they intend to stay as councillors and will be entitled to claim annual allowances of more than £4,737 each.
Councillors are also allowed to claim travel expenses of up to 58.7p per mile depending on their vehicle.
Political opponents have called on the couple to "do the honourable thing" and stand down.
But Mr Willicombe said it is pointless to force the council to pay for a by-election when their Woodstock ward will disappear in 2015 under boundary changes.
They expected a long wait to sell their house in Chegworth Gardens, Sittingbourne, but it was snapped up in days.
Mr and Mrs Willicombe, who have represented Woodstock ward since 2000 and 2002 respectively, said they intend to continue serving constituents.
But UKIP Kent county councillor Mike Baldock and Labour Swale councillor Mike Haywood are unhappy with the situation.
Cllr Baldock said although the Willicombes are legally entitled to continue serving, he questions if it is giving Woodstock residents a good service.
He said: "I know they haven't been to Tunstall Parish Council since May – there was a big meeting about the school and they were not there.
"If it was my party, I would expect them to stand down. If they were still able to regularly attend meetings and give a good service, that's OK."
Cllrs Jean and Alan Willicombe, who are under pressure to resign after moving to Lincolnshire
Labour group leader Cllr Haywood says he thinks it is up to council and Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Bowles "to do the honourable thing".
"I will let them decide what the honourable thing to do is," he said.
"If they can't work out what the right decision is, residents have got to draw their own conclusions. In the meantime, we are working on issues in the area and Cllr Roger Truelove is addressing concerns."
The distance the couple are moving while continuing to be councillors in Sittingbourne
Mr Willicombe, also a former county councillor, has defended the decision, saying: "I wasn't going to stand again in 2015 because my ward was being dismantled and it's the same for Jean.
"I don't think there is a point to standing down – I can still work and be in contact with the other councillors.
"Why have the cost of another election? It seems a bit stupid. We put our property up for sale just to see what the market was like and we sold it in two days, which was far quicker than we ever expected – we thought it would take six months to a year – so it pushed us into looking for somewhere far quicker than we wanted to.
"It's just the way things panned out. I have got a sister up here and properties are cheaper – it's as simple as that, and it will be nice to retire to."
The couple say they will be coming back and forth to attend meetings and the council's website will be updated to include a phone number as well as email addresses once they have a landline installed at their new home.
In the meantime, their Tory colleagues - Cllr Sylvia Bennett and Cllr Derek Conway - will be dealing with residents' concerns on their behalf.
The Willicombes served as Swale's mayor and mayoress in 2008/09.
Swale Borough Council headquarters in East Street, Sittingbourne
Responding to complaints, Cllr Bowles said he was not aware of the couple's reasons for moving but has no powers to force a councillor to stand down.
He said: "It's unfortunate, but without knowing the full facts, it's difficult to comment.
"It's difficult to ask people to stand for election somewhere that's going to disappear.
"The people who are technically represented by Alan and Jean won't be in future – it's an unusual situation."
A by-election is only called when a seat is vacant. However, if there is no attendance at meetings for six months, there is an automatic disqualification from being a councillor.
Resident John Greenhill, who lives in Woodstock ward, is furious about the relocation and says it is "murky, dirty and puerile".
The 64-year-old said the first he knew about their move was when it was mentioned at a full council meeting last week.
He said: "They didn't have the decency to inform their constituents they were going.
"I think it's a disgraceful situation – how can they honestly say they represent the people of this ward?
"It's a despicable political tactic so they don't have to resign for fear of the Tories losing their stranglehold of this borough and can't be replaced by Labour or UKIP councillors.
"They were hardly seen about the ward when they were here. If they were honourable, they would resign."
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