Councillor's resignation U-turn blocked

Chaos reigned yesterday after Wigan Council insisted an independent councillor could not reverse his decision to quit the chamber.
Coun Steve JonesCoun Steve Jones
Coun Steve Jones

Coun Steve Jones, independent representative for Bryn ward, performed a dramatic U-turn when he posted on Facebook that he was staying on.

This came just a few days after he announced he was stepping down on February 20 for personal reasons.

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However, the town hall has now insisted that he actually resigned on the day he said he would step down and a notice of casual vacancy for a new councillor has already been published. The by-election will now take place on February 22.

The local authority moved fast, with his profile being removed from the councillors’ page on the official website by Wednesday lunchtime.

The confusion deepened further when Coun Jones told the Wigan Post he was confident his interpretation of election law allowed him to stay on.

Coun Jones said in his online statement: “I am thankful for all the support and help my local constituents have given me over these last few days but I now do NOT intend to resign as your independent councillor.

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“It was my intention to do that on the 20th Feb in a moment of weakness. I honestly believe I was doing the best thing for the loved ones around me, but I will now not be doing that.”

Coun Jones added: “My family and all the residents I have spoken to about what has happened have got behind me.

“I was asked by email if I could confirm I intended to resign on February 20 and I sent an email back.

“I then started having a rethink and they said I had resigned on that day. We’re convinced the legislation doesn’t say that.”

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Emails seen by Wigan Today show that on January 5 a council officer emailed Coun Jones saying it would be helpful if he could confirm in writing his intention to stand down on Febrary 20.

Coun Jones replied less than an hour later: “With a lot of thought I have to inform you that as of the 20th of February 2018 I will be resigning my role as an elected councillor for Wigan Council.”

He told the Wigan Observer on Monday: “It has been one of the hardest decisions of my life but with recent events and personal problems I no longer feel I can represent our community.”

Wigan Council yesterday said it was sure that he had quit his office with immediate effect.

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A spokesman said: “Legislation states that the resignation of an elected member takes effect as soon as the notice of resignation is received.

“There is no provision for a resignation to be withdrawn once it is given.

“Steve Jones resigned for personal reasons.”

The Local Government Act 1972 section 84 covers elected representatives leaving their posts.

It states that a person elected “may at any time resign his office by written notice delivered ... to the proper officer of the council”.

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It then says “his resignation shall take effect upon the receipt of the notice by the person or body to whom it is required to be delivered.”

However there is no indication, as appears to be the case for Coun Jones, what should happen if the written notice gives a future date for stepping down within it.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association declined to be dragged into the matter saying it was a local issue.

Steve Jones was elected just under two years ago to take the seat formerly held Don Hodgkinson.

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Since then he has endured an eventful time in the chamber, with several notable successes.

However, in recent months controversy has dogged him.

He was convicted of drink-driving in North Wales late last year and also had his ability to give out Brighter Borough money to community projects stopped following a number of inflammatory social media posts about Wigan Council’s chief executive Donna Hall.

The town hall also recently said he would not be able to vote in February’s budget meeting as he was not fully up-to-date with council tax payments.

And yesterday, Greater Manchester Police confirmed that Coun Jones had received a caution last week for common assault. A spokesperson said: “A 30-year-old man from Old Road in Ashton was cautioned for common assault on January 4 following his arrest.”

It is believed officers originally attended an address on the street on December 23 following reports of an assault and an investigation was launched.