THE meeting to set Southend Council’s £419million budget descended into chaos after the leader claimed he “sold” a senior position to his rival.
Ron Woodley, Independent councillor for Thorpe, demanded an apology, refused to sit down then stormed out of the chamber after council leader Nigel Holdcroft alleged he “bought” the chairmanship of a key committee.
Referring to Mr Woodley’s criticism that interest on borrowing agreed in previous budgets was now affecting the authority’s spending power, Mr Holdcroft said: “I suppose that would include the year he supported our budget because he bought a chair of scrutiny in exchange, but no doubt that was far more important than the best interests of the budget.”
The Independent, who denies he “bought” the chairmanship, demanded an apology.
When mayor Brian Kelly, who was chairing the meeting on Thursday, declined to invite Mr Holdcroft to apologise, Mr Woodley refused to take his seat.
After standing for about five minutes as the meeting continued, Mr Woodley started turning on his microphone to prevent other members using theirs, until town clerk Rob Tinlin warned the Independent he was breaching council rules.
The Thorpe ward representative, who is expected to contest the leadership again after Mr Holdcroft steps down in May, stormed out and threatened to report the Conservative leader to the council’s standards committee.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Woodley said: “To state he bought my vote and my support is totally inaccurate.
“He won’t be able to buy my support.”
In 2012 Mr Woodley and fellow Thorpe councillors Mike Stafford and Alex Kaye publicly agreed to back Conservative budgets in return for the appointment of opposition members to key positions and the Tories blocking new parking charges in the ward.
Mr Holdcroft claims Mr Woodley asked to be chairman of the then economic and environmental scrutiny committee as part of the deal.
But Mr Woodley, who voted for the Tory budget on Thursday evening, claims Mr Holdcroft invited him to take the role.
A video of the meeting can be viewed at www.southend.gov.uk
SOUTHEND Council passed the Tory group’s £419million spending plans for the coming year after no opposition group put forward an alternative budget on Thursday night.
Leader Nigel Holdcroft, who will step down in May, taunted his opponents by saying they could vote against his budget as the Tories were in a minority that night.
But as no alternative budget was on the table, a new council meeting would have to be called, delaying the release of council tax letters and costing the authority an estimate £200,000.
Mr Holdcroft said: “There is an obligation on every member of this council to pass a budget.
“If you don’t want to pass this one, you should have proposed something else.”
Council tax, parking fees and leisure charges will be frozen, but council rent will rise by £4.54.
The equivalent of 49.5 fulltime posts will go, as the authority suffers a £7.6million drop in Government grants.
A total of £60million of new spending on projects is planned over the next four years, including £10million for the airport business park, £2.5million for low energy street lights an £8million to buy and demolish offices in Victoria Avenue.