Two more leave Portishead Town Council over 'in-person' controversy

Caroline Goddard and Tina Mason.

Caroline Goddard, left, and Tina Mason have left the council, along with Polly Shepperdson (not pictured) - Credit: Portishead Independents

Two more former members have left Portishead Town Council after not attending meetings in person.

Controversy has engulfed the authority after it emerged three town councillors had breached rules requiring them to attend meetings in person - when they had done so virtually.

While this was allowed during the pandemic, changes to rules governing local authorities were changed, meaning councillors were required to attend at least one meeting each six months.

Some residents had claimed councillors Tina Mason, Polly Shepperdson and Caroline Goddard had automatically lost their seats after not attending meetings in person for six months.

However, the council stood behind the trio, saying they had attended meetings virtually, and that the rules were outdated.

But Cllr Goddard left the council in March.

Now, former councillors Mason and Shepperdson have also left the authority.

Portishead Town Council chair and vice chair, Paddy Sterndale and Paul Gardner, released a statement outlining the moves, aiming to 'set the record straight'.

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It said: "It is with great regret that Portishead Town Council has had to accept the resignations of Councillors Tina Mason and Polly Shepperdson, over a farcical technicality. 

"Despite suffering significant personal and family illness in recent times which prevented them from physically attending meetings in person, they have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic carrying out their duties as councillors to help residents and have regularly attended council meetings online. 

"Even with these facts, we have received legal advice that they must resign because of a clause in the Local Government Act 1972 (a year where most people did not even have a phone) which states that failure to attend any meeting over a six-month period means that they can no longer be councillors. 

"Bizarrely in the year 2022, the English Law ruling is that attending meetings online where all councillors can be seen, heard and hear others is not counted as 'attendance', it has to be physically in person, whereas in Wales and Scotland the Law has been updated to treat online attendance in the same way as being there physically.

"This situation has happened in other local councils which, while acknowledging the same mishap have just continued without skipping a beat.

"Unfortunately, in Portishead, a campaign orchestrated by a few, mostly ex-councillors, has forced the resignation of our dedicated councillors because of potential personal liabilities for them."

To fill the vacancies, there will either be by-elections, or new members appointed by 'co-option'. 

"By-elections cost many thousands of pounds for vacancies which will be filled for less than a year as there is a full local election due soon in May 2023, whereas co-option carries zero costs," the statement added. 

"If any community minded residents would be interested learning more about the unpaid voluntary role as a Councillor, please do get in touch."