A TOWN councillor has been accused of “victimising” the chair of community interest company LymeForward.
Sue Davies, chair of LymeForward, made the accusations against Councillor Belinda Bawden during the public forum of last week’s town council meeting.
Her comments were made in response to a report in the agenda, written by Cllr Bawden, who is the town council’s representative on LymeForward.
In her report, Cllr Bawden expressed concerns about a “lack of governance” and high turnover of volunteers, staff and directors at LymeForward, which manages the foodbank and is involved in many other projects with the aim of improving local services and the wellbeing of the community.
In response to the report, Ms Davies said she had been the subject of an “unremitting campaign of serious victimisation, intimidation and persecution” by Cllr Bawden since taking over as chair in March 2020.
Cllr Bawden’s report to councillors read as follows: “Much has been said about my concerns about the governance; lack of answers to questions; high turnover of volunteers, paid staff and directors in disturbing circumstances; and lack of any meetings of the LymeForward Steering Group or the Coastal Communities Team since Sue Davies took over as chairman.
“Questions were met with obfuscation or refusal to answer and mistaken or inaccurate claims have been made to others and, since the AGM on March 31, in public.”
Cllr Bawden went on to praise Ms Davies and foodbank manager Sue Jones for their efforts in adapting the foodbank, for which Cllr Bawden volunteered, during lockdown.
However, she added: “Once it was apparent they were fully capable of running all aspects of the foodbank operation, I resigned as a volunteer due to the inconsistent and confusing management style. Other volunteers were also experiencing similar problems and left.”
Cllr Bawden also made complaints that she had not been invited to various LymeForward meetings, despite being the council representative and a member of the organisation, adding: “It seems selected members only are being invited.”
Lyme Regis Town Council currently provides LymeForward with a grant of £10,000 a year.
During a grant review meeting in September 2020, Cllr Bawden claimed that Ms Davies was “unable to provide accurate figures for use of the foodbank or answer several other questions and agreed to let us know subsequently”.
She said she raised these questions again at another grant review meeting in March 2021, but “most remained unanswered”.
Speaking during the public forum of last week’s council meeting, Ms Davies first addressed the claims that Cllr Bawden had not been invited to certain meetings.
She said she was unaware that Cllr Bawden had been appointed as a representative of the Lyme Regis, Charmouth & Uplyme Coastal Communities Team, managed by LymeForward, or that she was a member of the LymeForward Steering Group, with previous correspondence from the council making it clear that the Mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe, was the sole council representative on this group.
She added: “The last time Cllr Bawden was invited to meet was on July 29 2020 and she responded by email that there was no need to meet.”
Referring to Cllr Bawden’s report, Ms Davies commented: “I have never been party to the contents of this report and have had no input whatsoever. Furthermore, the first I knew of its contents was when my attention was drawn to it as I was specifically named individually.
“Since March 2020 when I took up the post of chair at LymeForward CIC I have endured and unremitting campaign of serious victimisation, intimidation and persecution by Cllr Bawden.
“This has not only affected my reputation but her actions have also had a grave effect on LymeForward CIC and its ability to function as a Local Area Partnership.
“I have evidence that clearly demonstrates that her actions and behaviour fall well below the standards cited in the Lyme Regis Town Council Code of Conduct for members.
“She has been nominated as a council representative for both LymeForward CIC and Lyme Regis Development Trust since July 2019, which has subsequently been extended until May 2021, despite many of my concerns being raised.
“Her campaign has been based on prolific, covert, blind copying of emails to members of the public, including former staff and directors, Lyme Regis Development Trust and other councillors.
“Several people have shared great concerns about the information being distributed about me and have sent copies of evidence.
“This campaign has been personal and is seriously motivated by her wish to denigrate mine and LymeForward CIC’s business activities.”
Ms Davies was then interrupted by Cllr Richard Doney, who said that the public forum should not be used to “mount personal attacks on individual councillors” and there were other mechanisms in place for raising such complaints.
The mayor added that Ms Davies had already spoken for her allocated three minutes.
However, Ms Davies said she would speak for six minutes, as she was also speaking on behalf of fellow LymeForward director Lesley Jellyman.
The mayor said that if she wanted to speak on behalf of someone else, councillors would have to approve this, but Ms Davies argued that this had not been the case at previous council meetings.
Cllr Michaela Ellis agreed, pointing out that one regular speaker at council meetings often also spoke on behalf of his wife to allow him six minutes and the council had never had to approve this.
Council response ‘inconsistent’
Having been asked for his advice on the matter, town clerk John Wright agreed that the public forum was not the right place for a personal attack on an individual councillors and suggested Ms Davies “concentrate on issues” and not anything personal.
Ms Davies replied: “What you have allowed is for a personal attack to take place and to be included in a report, and for myself to be named in that report, and I am responding to that.
“There seems to be some inconsistencies here because I’ve been named in a report and am not being allowed any redress.”
The mayor then asked her again to “stick to the point”.
Ms Davies replied: “The important thing is to acknowledge there has been a long-standing, unremitting campaign of serious victimisation, intimidation and persecution by Cllr Bawden.”
Cllr Doney objected again, adding: “This is just continuing and it’s got to stop.”
Ms Davies said that Cllr Bawden had written the report so she had to refer to her in her response.
The mayor asked: “Can you please keep to the inaccuracy you believe is in the report and not go into other things?”
Ms Davies said she had sent her response to the council well in advance of the meeting and asked for it to be included in papers distributed to members along with Cllr Bawden’s report, but she had received no response to this.
The mayor replied: “With respect, Sue, you have had the time and you’ve made your point very clearly about your concerns about the way in which the report outlines LymeForward’s position.”
Ms Davies replied: “I am not happy with the way it’s been handled so I would like this to be considered further in terms of my response, because I think there’s a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies, and I think I am being discriminated against, so I will respond in writing.”
Two former LymeForward volunteers, and subsequent employees, Mary Ward and Lisa Charleton, then spoke on the matter.
They said that when they had worked for LymeForward, Ms Davies had always been “very adamant” that they should not speak to Cllr Bawden or the mayor, but being interested in the work of the council and community, they held two meetings with Cllr Bawden anyway.
They commented: “The meetings were very positive, she was very positive about LymeForward and never derogatory about Sue Davies. We never sensed there was ever any animosity.
“Belinda has always been very supportive and complimentary.”
They added that Cllr Cheryl Reynolds had also attended one of these meetings to discuss community work, but Cllr Reynolds denied that this was a formal meeting, commenting: “It was a coffee and a chat and it was nothing to do with any formal business.”
Cllr Bawden was present at last week’s council meeting but did not respond at the time.
She has since sent the following statement to LymeOnline: “I am humbled by the fact that over 500 people voted for me in 2019 and, since then, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Lyme Regis, both educating myself as much as possible on community-based solutions to the climate and environmental crisis while supporting residents through the community support response to COVID lockdown measures.
“I am the council representative on several local organisations, co-founded the Dorset Climate Action Network and work on the National Association of Local Council’s Climate Action group.
“I also organised two Totally Locally campaigns to encourage people to support local independent businesses; am running an innovative community engagement project with the Royal College of Art, Transport Planning Society, Royal Town Planning Institute and other major stakeholders; and hope to set up the Lyme Regis Car Club and bring electric bike rental hubs to the local area.
“Over the past year, concerns have been raised in several quarters about the management, governance and accountability of LymeForward and, as the town council representative for LymeForward, I have brought these issues to the attention of the council.
‘Division is not the way forward’
“The town council provides substantial public funding to LymeForward and these concerns must be properly investigated.
“At Thursday’s town council meeting I faced criticism for doing that and allegations were made about my actions which were totally misrepresented.
“Division and conflict are not the way forward. We now have the opportunity as a council to get behind our hard-working mayor and pull together to provide real leadership as we face the challenges of the recovery from the pandemic and respond to the climate and environmental crisis.
“We must engage the community to work together to support each other, work with local businesses and community groups to find solutions to our perennial traffic and parking problems, and tackle social isolation and economic uncertainty.
“As the members of LymeForward now need to address the concerns of that organisation, town council members also have to decide their way forward.
“I am unable to respond to the allegations against me until I am told what they are. I am hugely saddened and distressed by the unnecessary waste of time and energy that raising genuine concerns about LymeForward as the town council representative has entailed.
“Those who know me can vouch for me. For those choosing to believe the wild and inaccurate allegations against me, simply for asking questions and reporting concerns, I will simply quote the irrepressible Ted Hastings in Jed Mercurio’s ‘Line of Duty’: ‘When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity?’”