Published: 17:18, 25 June 2020
| Updated: 17:36, 25 June 2020
An MP has criticised a borough council for allowing councillors to continue to vape in its buildings, while everyone else is banned.
Sittingbourne and Sheppey's representative Gordon Henderson (Con) has called out Swale's administration for its "hypocrisy" after a motion to extend a ban on smoking of e-cigarettes to its own members was defeated.
The motion, which was proposed by Cllr Mike Whiting (Con) and seconded by Cllr Alan Horton (Con), asked for a paragraph in the policy to be amended and read as follows: "This policy applies to all members, employees and agency staff. It also applies to consultants and contractors whilst they are working for the council. It also applies to visitors and members of the public whilst they are in council buildings or council vehicles."
However, the majority of members voted against it at last week's Full Council meeting, so it was not agreed.
Mr Henderson said the decision was one that undermined "the whole concept of equality and fairness".
He added: "30 years ago, when I was a Swale borough councillor, I proposed that smoking should be banned in all parts of the council building.
"Despite some opposition, I was able to get the policy approved, with the support of Liberal councillor Peter Morgan.
"The important principle that we insisted on was that the rule should apply to everybody who used Swale House; councillors, staff and visitors.
"Today, smoking is still banned, as is the use of vaping, except, for some bizarre reason, by councillors.
"A motion was tabled that would have extended the ban to councillors. That is both sensible and fair.
"Apparently, coalition councillors manipulated the council's rules to ensure the motion was defeated. Which now means that councillors can continue to vape in Swale House, whilst everybody else are banned. What hypocrisy!"
Mr Henderson also criticised the authority's "stupid idea" to pedestrianise Sheerness High Street.
"Banning traffic, and parking, from the High Street is a stupid idea that will lead to its death," he stormed.
"I'm not sure which member of the coalition administration thought up this lunatic proposal, but I suspect it was somebody who does not live on the Isle of Sheppey, and does not understand the pressures on retail generally."
Mr Henderson added that he had tried to work with the administration and, despite his comments, he would continue to co-operate whenever he could.
He also said he did support some of the policies the council was pursuing, in particular its efforts to improve the flow of affordable housing in the borough and efforts to reduce the level homelessness.
Swale council's leader, Roger Truelove, has hit back at Mr Henderson's comments.
He said: "I think I reflect the views of many of Gordon’s constituents in thinking, as local MP, he would be better employed evaluating and explaining his Government’s performance rather than repeatedly making partisan criticisms of Swale council.
"He appears to listen to some rather warped versions of events from Conservative councillors and then to act as their spokesman."
Cllr Truelove said Sheerness High Street would only be pedestrianised on a trial basis in response to government guidance and because public safety is the authority's first priority.
"It is to ensure safe distancing for customers using the shops," he added. "I believe there is support for this from within the Sheerness Town Council. We will evaluate progress.
"As to the council vote on vaping on council premises, I voted against the Conservative motion because I did not feel that regulating member behaviour should ever be a subject for a motion that contained within it an element of personal animosity.
"I further felt that the public would take a very dim view of a council, after three months of lockdown and during a continuing crisis, making such a subject the first priority for debate, remembering that none of us are in Swale House or likely to be there for some time.
"It is an enormous spin to suggest the council wants to enshrine special privileges for members. We will resolve matters in house. The vote, by the way, was in line with standing orders."
Cllr Truelove also said he remembered when he was in opposition on Swale council and how he was "prepared to criticise" the Conservative administration, but on policy matters such as the approach to regeneration in Sittingbourne and the absence of any commitment to tackle homelessness in the corporate plan.
"Far too frequently, the opposition the current administration answers to is narrow-minded and process-based, rather than any contribution to policy," he added.
More by this authorChloe Holmwood