SEVERAL North Devon and Torridge councillors have failed to respond to an e-mail from a constituent asking them to deal with a problem – despite claiming allowances of up to £360 a year to help them access the internet.
The councillors who failed to respond were also given more than a month, and a reminder, to respond.
All 43 North Devon councillors and 38 Torridge district councillors were sent an e-mail on November 1, purporting to be from one of the people they represent.
The deliberately vague message told them about a problem with trees and included only limited information which meant they would need to e-mail the sender back.
Seven North Devon councillors and six Torridge councillors failed to do so, despite the fact all Torridge councillors and around half of all North Devon councillors are entitled to electronic access allowance payments — which are supposed to ensure they can stay in touch with their constituents and access online council services.
The six Torridge councillors all claim the full £360 allowance they are entitled to. Of the North Devon councillors Brian Hockin, Colin Payne, Faye Webber and Chris Turner claim the allowance of £100 a year towards the use of equipment and £15 a month for broadband — a total of £280. Des Brailey, David Worden and Jeremy Yabsley do not claim the allowance.
The e-mail was sent after the Journal had difficulty reaching councillors to find out whether they had paid their council tax.
Many responded to the e-mail promptly, with 16 North Devon Councillors replying within 24 hours. One, Pat Barker, took just 11 minutes to respond.
Julia Clark replied after an hour and 19 minutes and sent a follow up e-mail two days later, while David Luggar felt a delay of four days before he sent a reply warranted a profuse apology.
Six on-the-ball Torridge councillors responded within half an hour. The first, Roger Tisdale, took just eight minutes and also contacted TDC officer Tim Stringer, who sent a message to Nicola Green, the Journal's fictional constituent, two hours later.
After a week 31 North Devon councillors and 28 Torridge Councillors had replied. After eight days John Himan brought the Torridge total to 29 and after nine Paul Yabsley became the 32nd respondent from North Devon.
But there were no further replies and after a month a quarter of all councillors, 11 in North Devon and nine in Torridge, had failed to respond.
A follow up e-mail was sent on November 30 to say the fictional problem still needed to be sorted out.
That prompted replies from another four North Devon Councillors, including John Moore, who initially sent an out-of-office reply saying he would be back on July 14.
But it prompted a reply from just one Torridge councillor, Peter Watson, who said he had been away and busy with work commitments when the original e-mail was sent.
The campaign manager of the Taxpayers' Alliance, Robert Oxley, said it's not right for councillors to ignore e-mails from constituents who need help.
"Helping local residents with their problems is an important part of the role of a councillor," he said.
"This is why they are afforded an allowance to help them stay in contact with the public. Those failing to respond are not only ignoring someone they are meant to represent but also wasting the money given to them.
"Many councillors do a stand-up job as this test shows, but those that do not should expect to be booted out by voters."
North Devon Council leader Brian Greenslade said he was unhappy his councillors had been "hoaxed".
"Don't you think this is in bad taste given the nurse who's committed suicide?" he said.
"Barry Parsons and I shall be writing to the editor to complain and may take a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
"Really in the current situation the Journal should be damned and that's all I've got to say on the matter."
Torridge District Council leader Barry Parsons didn't echo Mr Greenslade's sentiments but said he was disappointed the e-mail had been sent.
"This kind of e-mail going out not only takes my time away but it takes time away from other members and council officers," he said.
"My councillors here are excellent. We're a small council with a big area to cover and they do a great job.
"There are a phenomenal amount of e-mails which need responding to and people work in different ways.
"There are sometimes reasons for people to miss an e-mail. I try to respond to mine on a daily basis but there are times I can't keep up and have to catch up as soon as possible.
"Other councillors operate in different ways."
Councillors say why they failed to respond:
NORTH Devon Councillor David Worden said he didn’t recall receiving the email.
“I’ll check back,” he said, “but I don’t recall seeing it. I respond to any and all e-mails I get normally.
“I did have a lot of trouble with my North Devon e-mail account a few weeks back.”
Mr Worden, who doesn’t claim an allowance for IT equipment or internet access, also said he wouldn’t comment on the councillors who failed to reply while claiming money for internet and email access.
“It’s entirely up to others what they do,” he said.
North Devon Councillor Des Brailey said it was possible he missed the e-mail, although he thought it unlikely.
“I haven’t seen it,” he said. “I’ll check back but I don’t recall seeing it.
“I do have a Blackberry so check things regularly and respond.
“If an e-mail came in on the 30th it is possible I missed it, because I’ve been laid up with the flu.”
He later called back to say he had found the second email in his in-box, and had responded after talking to the Journal.
Mr Brailey doesn’t claim an IT allowance.
North Devon Councillor Faye Webber said she recalled receiving the e-mail but hadn’t responded because it didn’t include an address.
“I vaguely remember it,” she said, “although I have had problems getting e-mails.
“I partly read them then they disappear.”
She also said she had got a new computer around the time the initial e-mail was sent.
“I changed my computer at the start of November, so when I got it back on I was inundated.
“I normally do reply to e-mails, even if it’s just to say thanks for e-mailing.
“And most people put the address in so I’d know where it was then I’d forward it to the relevant officer.
“I didn’t answer this one because there was no address.”
She also said she thought giving councillors an allowance for IT equipment made sense.
“Really the allowance is cheaper than buying a new computer for councillors,” she said. “I’ve got my own now, which is much cheaper than the council providing one.”
North Devon Councillor Chris Turner said he hadn’t responded because he had been recovering from surgery.
“For the last five weeks I’ve been indisposed,” he said.
“I’m still at home recovering from major surgery and member services are aware of that.”
Torridge Councillor Roger Johnson said as a member of the executive he was “inundated” with e-mails.
“I’m actually one of the better councillors for replying,” he said. “I have a BlackBerry and an iPad.
“I do remember the e-mail and thinking I needed to get back to it.
“But I can’t make too many excuses; I just missed it. As deputy leader I do get inundated with e-mails.”
Torridge Councillor Pauline Davies said she had ‘responded’ to the email, but hadn’t replied.
“I looked at the e-mail and contacted the county council about getting some of the trees cut down,” she said.
She said she has done so before and that not knowing where the trees were didn’t cause a problem. “The county council usually send some guys around in a van and they look at all the areas and cut down any problem trees,” she said.
“I’d normally reply to the email after the problem’s been fixed but I’ve had a busy month and been ill.”
Torridge Councillor Andrew Eastman said he could offer no excuse for missing the email.
“I apologise profusely for missing the email,” he said.
“But I have to say I’ve got 973 unread on my Torridge account, 246 on my Devon County Council account and 217 on my Northam Town Council one.
“I’m up to my eyeballs.
“I’m up and showered before 7am every day and I dedicate an hour and a half to my e-mails. I scan them and pick out the ones that demand first attention.
“Unfortunately it is a necessity that I have to prioritise.”
Torridge Councillor Barry Edwards said he didn’t remember receiving the email.
“I do get an awful lot of spamon both my Torridge and personal accounts,” he said.
“I would normally respond by phone, very seldom by e-mail, because I’m partially sighted.
“But I honestly don’t remember receiving an email about trees and I’m doing work with a Green Party member at the moment so it would have triggered something.
“I’m surprised if I missed it because I don’t just ignore anything.
“There’s no point because these things usually come back to bite you.”
He later called back to say he had found the e-mails in his deleted messages, but had no idea why they were there.
“I don’t know why they’re there,” he said. “If I had seen them I’d have e-mailed back to ask for more information.”
Torridge Councillor Bob Hicks said he didn’t think the e-mail had warranted a response.
He also said the reason he hadn’t responded was a ”long story”.
“I’ve had a BlackBerry break down and had to get a replacement and our computer system at the end of the line is so slow I regularly get fed up with it,” he said.
“And it was such a bloody stupid question I didn’t think it warranted a reply. It was a county matter anyway, they deal with trees.”
Torridge Councillor Trevor Johns said he had no record of receiving the email.
“I’m sorry if I’ve mislaid it,” he said. “I’ve no record of receiving it although of course I must have.
“I get a host of e-mails. And we do get scam e-mails and to be fair this is an untruth.
“I’m the servant of the north ward of Bideford and people should be able to get hold of their councillor if they need help.
“If I get an e-mail I get straight on to the case and ask for more information.
“But your e-mail didn’t give chapter and verse, it’s not all there. How can I pluck this information from the sky?”
North Devon Councillors Brian Hockin, Colin Payne and Jeremy Yabsley were unavailable for comment.
How long they took to respond:
1 Pat Barker – 11 minutes
2 Lesley Brown – 40 minutes
3 Andrea Davis – 1 hour 15 minutes
4 Mike Harrison – 1 hour 18 minutes
5 Rodney Cann – 1 hour 19 minutes
= Julia Clark – 1 hour 19 minutes
7 Caroline Chugg – 1 hour 48 minutes
8 Malcolm Prowse – 2 hours 18 minutes
9 Phillip Webb – 3 hours 25 minutes
10 Brian Moores – 4 hours 9 minutes
11 Joe Tucker – 4 hours 24 minutes
12 Geoff Fowler – 5 hours 3 minutes
13 Julian Gurney – 6 hours 45 minutes
14 Roy Lucas – 9 hours 47 minutes
15 Glyn Lane – 10 hours 37 minutes
16 Frank Biederman – 21 hours 44 minutes
17 Derrick Spear – 1 day
= Malcolm Wilkinson – 1 day
= John Mathews – 1 day
= Brian Greenslade – 1 day
= Sue Croft – 1 day
= Adam Bradford – 1 day
23 Jasmine Chesters – 3 days
24 Suzanne Haywood – 4 days
= Mike Edmunds – 4 days
= David Luggar – 4 days
= Mair Manuel – 4 days
= Yvette Gubb – 4 days
29 Walter White – 5 days
= Julie Hunt – 5 days
31 Jackie Flynn – 7 days
32 Paul Yabsley – 9 days
33 Paul Crabb – 30 days
34 Eric Ley – 31 days
35 John Moore – 32 days
36 Richard Edgell – 35 days
1 Roger Tisdale - 8 minutes
2 Brian Redwood – 9 minutes
3 Adam Symons – 12 minutes
4 Harold Martin – 25 minutes
5 John Lewis – 26 minutes
6 Andy Boyd – 30 minutes
7 Ken James – 1 hour 3 minutes
8 Steve Clarke – 1 hour 46 minutes
9 Barry Parsons – 1 hour 48 minutes
10 Michael Footit - 1 hour 56 minutes
11 Simon Inch – 2 hours 5 minutes
12 Rosemary Lock – 2 hours 18 minutes
13 Margaret Brown – 3 hours
14 Tony Inch – 3 hours 3 minutes
15 David Fulford – 4 hours 10 minutes
16 Geoff Lee – 4 hours 17 minutes
17 Philip Pennington – 5 hours 38 minutes
18 David Lausen – 6 hours 4 minutes
19 Philip Collins – 6 hours 30 minutes
20 Mervyn Langmead – 8 hours 35 minutes
21 Kathy Murdoch – 18 hours 47 minutes
22 Howard Ratledge – 20 hours 8 minutes
23 Gaye Tabor – 20 hours 11 minutes
24 Anna Dart – 21 hours 42 minutes
25 Chris Leather - 1 day
26 Peter Christie – 2 days
27 David Brenton – 3 days
28 Jane Whittaker – 7 days
29 John Himan – 8 days
30 Peter Watson – 33 days