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Cynon Valley councillor has lost his seat on council for non attendance

A CYNON Valley councillor has lost his seat on the council for not attending a meeting for more than six months without permission.

Councillor Gavin Williams who represents Penrhiwceiber on Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has failed to attend a council meeting for more than half a year, a report which went before full council on Wednesday, March 10 said.

Councillors voted that the seat should now be declared vacant as a result.

Since the start of virtual meetings, attendance records show that Cllr Gavin Williams of The Cynon Valley Party has not attended a council meeting for more than six months and has not had a reason for his non-attendance approved by the council within that period.

The report said that he last attended a meeting on March 4, 2020, and has also not requested officers present a report to the full council asking that it considers a reason, or reasons, for his non-attendance.

The Local Government Act 1972 requires a member of a local authority to attend at least one meeting of that authority within a six-month consecutive period unless permission for the absence is granted by the authority in advance.

Without advance permission to be absent, loss of office is automatic and permission cannot be granted retrospectively.

But Councillor Pauline Jarman, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, claimed that there were two other councillors who were not compliant having not attended meetings for six months between July and December 31 according to the council’s records.

She said that Cllr Williams had offered apologies which indicated that there was contact with the council and added that the group leader Councillor Mike Powell wasn’t even advised that Cllr Williams faced the prospect of losing his seat.

She said:

“I am not content that the matter can be resolved without further consideration.

“We can’t discriminate against one colleague when there is that doubt. I move that it is deferred otherwise it might go against the principle of fair play and justice.”

She suggested it goes to the standards committee but the council’s legal officer said he doesn’t think it falls within the remit of the standards committee.

The council report said that attendance in an official capacity at a relevant meeting of the council is defined as attendance at the cabinet, a committee or a sub-committee of the council, at any meeting of a joint committee or other such body discharging functions of the council or at any meeting as a representative of the council.

If a councillor loses their office through failure to attend for the six-month period, the disqualification cannot be overcome by them subsequently resuming attendance.

In March it was agreed that if a councillor could not attend a council meeting for a period of six consecutive months owing to the Covid-19 virus, then their failure to attend any meetings was approved by the council.

The report said it was unknown at that time when normal arrangements for council meetings would be reinstated and therefore councillors were asked to make that decision in the event that future meetings may have been some way off.

In April, the Welsh Government introduced legislation for council and committee meetings which meant they were able to take place virtually.

A councillor’s attendance at meetings for compliance with the six-month rule was then recorded from July 2020 when full council meetings resumed and councillors had received training, or the offer of training, in remote meetings including the use of Zoom.

Councillor Maureen Webber, deputy leader of the council said she doesn’t think it is “right or appropriate” to consider members outside the remit of the report.

The presiding officer said they are dealing with Councillor Gavin Williams and did not accept the proposal from Cllr Jarman to defer the matter.

The report said that reasonable efforts have been made to contact Cllr Gavin Williams and that the council has written to him offering support and assistance to enable and support his attendance at virtual meetings.

He has also been telephoned by democratic services who asked if there was anything preventing his attendance at meetings but they were not able to make contact with him.

The report said:

“Provision of a reason by a member to the proper officer, or taking advantage of the assistance offered, prior to the expiration of the six-month period would have afforded the opportunity for the full council to consider any extenuating circumstances and respond accordingly.”

The meeting went into private session following legal advice that private information might be disclosed during the debate.

Once the meeting had returned to the open session, a vote was passed with Labour voting to declare the seat vacant, Plaid and the independent group voting against it with the Conservatives abstaining and the unallocated councillor Stephen Belzak voting against it.

Cllr Gavin Williams has been contacted for comment.

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