New Rugby council leader says he would rather quit than stand by Warwickshire SEND storm councillors

The new leader of Rugby Borough Council, Cllr Michael Moran.The new leader of Rugby Borough Council, Cllr Michael Moran.
The new leader of Rugby Borough Council, Cllr Michael Moran.
The new leader of Rugby Borough Council revealed he would rather quit than tolerate the comments made by three Conservative county councillors on SEND provision.

Labour’s Councillor Michael Moran (Admirals & Cawston) last week referred to standards in local politics during his first speech since taking the top job.

He expressed hope that a refreshed code of conduct and customer charter for the borough “can make a massive difference inside and outside the town hall”, calling on rival group leaders Councillor Derek Poole (Con, Wolston & the Lawfords) and Councillor Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem, Paddox) to work with him to strengthen Rugby’s framework on ethics above and beyond what is set out in law.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Within that, it seemed as though he was referencing the ongoing storm over three Tories who serve on Warwickshire County Council and their comments on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision back.

“When councillors in other jurisdictions come out and say things that really are beyond the pale, it is incumbent on leaders to remove them from their posts in whatever way is possible,” said Cllr Moran.

What happened at the county council

At a scrutiny meeting in January, the former portfolio holder for children and families in Warwickshire Councillor Jeff Morgan (Con, Bulkington & Whitestone) questioned whether some children put forward for SEND assessments were “just really badly behaved” and in need of “some form of strict correction”.

That followed Councillor Brian Hammersley (Con, Bedworth Central) asking whether a surge in demand was down to “something in the water”, while Councillor Clare Golby (Con, Arbury) referred to social media pages where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hundreds of formal complaints flew into Shire Hall and while apologies attributed to the trio were issued by the council’s communications department, each of the councillors has declined to address the matter since.

The Tory administration in charge of the county distanced itself from the comments but leader Councillor Izzi Seccombe OBE (Con, Stour & the Vale) has been criticised for not temporarily removing the whip – suspending them from the party – while the complaints are investigated.

Warwickshire County Council released on Friday that it expects the investigation to conclude this week.

‘Either they would go or I would go’

When asked whether his comment applied to the SEND issue, Cllr Moran replied: “It certainly can do.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I wouldn’t be in the same group as anyone who could make comments like that. Either they would go or I would go. There needs to be a stronger moral fibre to local politics.”

He added that he had reacted with “disgust” when he heard of what had been said in January.

“There is no other word for it,” he said. “You are picking on, targeting, vilifying people who you don’t know anything about. It is unacceptable.”

SEND parents and campaigners have been critical not only of the handling of the matter by the Tories but also the lack of clarity over who would make decisions on removing the whip, something Cllr Seccombe eventually took ownership of in late May – 51 days after being asked.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cllr Moran added: “I cannot and won’t comment on other parties but when we put ourselves out publicly to be part of a group, it is incumbent on the leader to be comfortable with who is in that group.

“Whether that councillor goes or the leader, it makes it clear. You don’t need this delay. The longer the delay, the longer the hurt of that unacceptable comment stays alive.

“It should be a more immediate process in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. It is not complicated.”

Cllr Seccombe did not respond when offered the right of reply.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Better standards for the borough

More broadly, Cllr Moran argued that “everyone needs to be a bit clearer on what we are and what we represent”, a view that tied in with another part of his address at Rugby Borough Council.

“Many people in this chamber would have taken part in the code of conduct training a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

“Our monitoring officer was at pains to point out that to some extent, statute has a limit as to what can be achieved.

“I would like to call on Councillor Poole and Councillor Roodhouse, that we might sit down and see what could be done from a political and personal basis to perhaps take it further than statute allows, so we get that code of conduct to really have teeth for the benefit of all.

“I think there has to be that idea of ‘not under my watch’.”