Rugby Tories stonewall further questions about use of allotment for election candidacy

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The councillor who lives in Northamptonshire but gave a Bilton allotment as her address to qualify to stand in the Rugby borough elections has gone to ground.

Though the role of the allotment in Alwyn Road – Plot 19B to be precise – was confirmed by Cllr Lisa Parker’s agent Jill Simpson-Vince, since then they and the new leaders of the Tory group have refused to answer further questions.

It’s now more than a month since polling day but some thorny issues remain.

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And having not responded to our initial emails and the chance to explain her position to Bilton residents, it was with a certain irony that when full council met on May 18 and councillors were given roles on its various committees, Cllr Parker was given a place on the scrutiny committee.

Re-elected borough councillor for Bilton Lisa Parker.Re-elected borough councillor for Bilton Lisa Parker.
Re-elected borough councillor for Bilton Lisa Parker.

Cllr Parker, like other Bilton borough councillors, is a trustee of the Poor’s Land charity but a look at the Charity Commission’s website shows its objectives seemingly at odds with an allotment being allocated to a Northamptonshire resident: “The charity was founded on bequests from various benefactors to Bilton in the past, including monies and freehold land currently used as allotments. The income from investment of the monies and allotment rents received is used for the benefit of the poor, the elderly and the younger inhabitants of the ancient parish of Bilton.”

And photos received by the paper since the story broke raise issues about whether she has been regularly active at the Alwyn Road plot.

We asked Cllr Parker and Ms Simpson-Vince a range of questions on May 9, 10 and 22 but have had no replies.

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Our questions included how long she had had the allotment and what she cultivated there; why as a long-standing Northamptonshire resident she wanted to represent Bilton; whether she thought if more and more councillors lived outside the borough it would become a problem and at what point; and whether her use of an allotment to qualify for the election risked changing the nature of allotments.

On May 22 and May 30 we sent a set of different questions on the matter to new Rugby Borough Council leader Cllr Derek Poole and his deputy Cllr Ian Picker – again we have had no replies.

Our questions to them included asking why, despite apparent Electoral Commission guidance in favour, the association thought it was appropriate use of an allotment; why the association put her forward ahead of anyone who lives in Bilton or the borough; why she was nominated for scrutiny committee; and the question about the potential precedent of candidates from outside the borough standing and when that would become a problem.

In the aftermath of the election, the Advertiser reported a statement from her agent: “Rugby Conservative Association clarified Cllr Lisa Parker’s eligibility to stand again as a councillor in May 2022.

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“We were aware that Lisa now lived and predominantly worked outside Rugby, however there are criteria in terms of home or land ownership.

“Lisa informed us that she had a tenancy agreement on an allotment. We contacted the Electoral Commission to ask the question around allotments and eligibility.

“The Electoral Commission confirmed that Cllr Parker was able to put forward the allotment.

“They said because of the way the legislation is framed, this could include an allotment, providing there is a legal agreement in place for the land and has been for the previous 12 months.

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“Cllr Parker has a tenancy agreement for the allotment which has been in place for some time. ‘Occupied’ in this case means she has worked on the land during that period of time.”

The Electoral Commission, however, refused to confirm to the Advertiser whether or not an allotment qualified.

It told us: “The Commission doesn’t take a view of on whether a specific property type would count as occupied land as there is no definitive list in legislation or guidance on which forms of land qualify. As a result, I can’t provide a straightforward yes or no, I’m afraid.

“It is for this reason that candidates need to seek their own legal advice.

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“We don't confirm to candidates or agents whether they are qualified, we can only point them to the guidance.”

The spokesperson also highlighted that the returning officer who oversees any election is not responsible for scrutinising the nomination papers received.

They stressed: “The returning officer will accept a nomination on face value.”

As these are the rules that apply nationally, we asked what checks and balances there were for a system that seemed to not have the obvious rule that the returning officer could check the validity of a nomination.

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The Commission spokesperson said: “If someone believes that a candidate has made a false statement on a nomination form, then this would be an electoral offence and a matter for the police, who are responsible for investigating electoral fraud.

"Every police force has a dedicated Single Point of Contact Officer who will be able to provide advice to ensure that the allegations are properly investigated.”

In the meantime, though living in and paying council tax to a different authority, Cllr Parker will be in line for councillor expenses from Rugby borough of £7,420.32 for her current year in office.

And though not responding to our questions, the Advertiser has observed she has been active on her personal Twitter account Lisa Lockdowns Cost £480BILLION commenting and retweeting about various national and international issues.