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13 North Devon and Torridge councillors fail to respond to email from concerned constituent

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

By Will Topps

  • Brian Greenslade

  • PROMPT: Pat Barker (left), the quickest to respond from North Devon Council, and Roger Tisdale, the most prompt Torridge district councillor.

  • NO REPLY: North Devon councillors who failed to respond, from left, Jeremy Yabsley, David Worden, Des Brailey, Brian Hockin, Colin Payne, Faye Webber and Chris Turner.

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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:

North Devon

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

Non respondents

Des Brailey

Brian Hockin

Colin Payne

Chris Turner

Faye Webber

David Worden

Jeremy Yabsley

Torridge

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

Non respondents

Pauline Davies

Andrew Eastman

Barry Edwards

Bob Hicks

Trevor Johns

Roger Johnson

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  • Countrylover  |  December 19 2012, 6:42PM

    I e mailed Mr Greenslade on 13th November about I believe objections to house building and that, instead of selling council offices, they are refurbished into council flats to bring in rent. Cant check on content as I would lose what I have written. I have NEVER had a reply back. Why not. Wasnt he was meant to be at a tree planting "do" but I was told he didnt turn up. Is he the same "Greenslade" that stood for the Police job, if so, if he puts so little effort into what he is doing now and makes such incompetant decisions he needs to be booted out. Did he also agree the obscene lump of metal now spoiling Ilfracombe harbour, in which case yet more reason for him plus the others on NDC/planning to go. Why do they need such a big allowance, surely they would all be on the internet anyway. All their expenses should be cut drastically. The feeble reasons for not replying are standard councillor replies to me.

    Rate   2
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  • steve99jones  |  December 19 2012, 4:48PM

    I thnk that Cllr Eastman needs to sort himself out. There is no excuse for having so many unread emails it just shows a lack of respect for his position and his constituents, which doesn't really surprise me.

    Rate   3
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  • ricardo2  |  December 15 2012, 5:26PM

    ND Journal, please ask Mr.Greenslade for an explanation about why he used the ....."Don't you think this is in bad taste given the nurse who's committed suicide?"............. comment. I think that someone in his position should not make such comments, it invites disrepute and is, in itself, bad taste.

    Rate   14
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  • Sconewars  |  December 15 2012, 4:20PM

    Cllr. Greenslade call this a 'hoax'. The definition of a hoax is a humorous or malicious deception. This email was neither humorous nor malicious but possibly a small deception in the best interests of democracy. We, the taxpayers, deserve to get value for money with regard to our public servants. If they claim allowances for ICT equipment and services they need to respond to communications sent via email, text messages, etc. If they can't be bothered or are incapable of doing so then perhaps they should resign.

    Rate   15
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  • referee  |  December 15 2012, 3:59PM

    Cllr Greenslades comments on the Journals article on the councillors e-mail answers was over the top and out of order. How can he compare the two situations? Has he completely lost it? All departments at North Devon Council are subject to "mystery shoppers" which helps to find out the level of service each department is giving to their customers. Surely Cllr Greenslade should understand that the Journal's ruse was nothing more than a rough service check on councilors performance. If he had read the editorial he would have found that by and large the Journal thought that councillors had responded well. Cllr Greenslade has always put his political well being before his job at the district council and perhaps his fellow councillors should decide his time is up as he has made the council look daft unless they agree with councillor Greenslade's views. Referee

    Rate   15
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  • ricardo2  |  December 14 2012, 6:26PM

    Mr Greenslade's comments are unacceptable and extraordinary. He is responsible to the public which elected him and should not defend his tardy colleague-councillors by the wholly irresponsible use of ....."Don't you think this is in bad taste given the nurse who's committed suicide?"............. Don't fall for such deflection-tactics. If it's necessary to resort to such media-exercises to get our councillors to fulfil their paid-duties, I say carry on ND Journal. 3 years ago, following significant research, I too engaged a senior councillor named in the article in an attempt to prevent more winter-road accidents at a well known location on the A361. There has been no feedback, even after I followed up. I am angered at having to assume that this serious risk still exists, and that a further tragedy may be the only way to focus the attentions of our Councillors.

    Rate   16
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  • billinbarum25  |  December 13 2012, 7:50PM

    Why does it appear there is some surprise in the lack of response from councillors. This is just yet another clear example of how elected councillors are only in it for their own ends, almost ALL are all smiles and promises when they want your vote but once they get their lazy fat ****s in the seat the only issues that concerns them is whats the best way they can screw the most money for the longest time till they're kicked out,,,the most surprising aspect of all is how in hell does that multi-faced parasitic slug greenslade manage to continue with his self promoting crusade, its about time he was removed.

    Rate   18
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  • Crabb Contractors  |  December 13 2012, 7:36PM

    I would of course apologise for taking 30 days to reply, except that I already have! :-) Here was my reply to the second email (sent 1 hour 10 minutes after receipt) Hello James. Yes, more that pleased to help, and I also apologise for not noticing your first email, which Outlook has now neatly appended to your one of today. Where are the trees concerned, and I'll see what can be done? Paul.

    Rate   -1
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  • JRussell  |  December 13 2012, 5:49PM

    Greenslade really does come across as a pompous old windbag, doesn't he? Seems like the NDJ has touched a nerve.

    Rate   22
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  • JRussell  |  December 13 2012, 5:49PM

    Greenslade really does come across as a pompous old windbag, doesn't he? Seems like the NDJ has touched a nerve.

    Rate   23
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