Sudbury councillor says Babergh Conservatives trying to ‘silence’ him with three-month suspension

Simon Barrett, Sudbury district cllr.
Simon Barrett, Sudbury district cllr.

A Sudbury councillor has been suspended by his party’s local group, after he was accused of leaking confidential information.

Simon Barrett, who represents the Sudbury South Ward, was handed a three-month suspension by the Babergh Conservatives Group for allegedly revealing statements – made at a private meeting with Tory councillors – by the joint chief executive of Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils, Arthur Charvonia.

But Cllr Barrett, who is also a local businessman, disputes that this was a breach of the group’s rules, arguing the confidentiality applied to discussions between group members and not comments made by an outside entity.

He resigned as deputy leader of Babergh District Council earlier this year following a failed leadership challenge, and has since been critical of the attempts to combine Babergh and Mid Suffolk into one council.

During a recent council meeting, Cllr Barrett said Mr Charvonia had told the Conservatives group privately the council’s cabinet could make the decision on the merger proposal.

The proposal was rejected in a public referendum in 2011, but the cabinets from both district councils voted overwhelmingly to revive the proposal in principle back in October, citing the increased pressures faced by local authorities since the referendum.

However, Babergh’s scrutiny committee called this in just weeks later, saying there was not enough evidence in the proposals to be able to make this decision, and it told the cabinets to reconsider and get the backing of the full council.

Cllr Barrett, a town and district councillor, claims his suspension is an attempt to silence him because of his criticisms of Babergh District Council’s cabinet, and of leader Jennie Jenkins over the matter, in which he described the current leadership as “pathetic”.

“I’m being punished,” he told the Free Press. “I probably have upset them, so they feel they need to discipline me, but I don’t think they have followed their own group rules.

“I think they were wanting to silence me and get rid of me because I have been outspoken about the process of this merger proposal.

“I think it’s turning out to be rather embarrassing for the cabinet. I feel the cabinet is misguided in going forward with the proposals.

“You do have to have a certain amount of party discipline, but this is not about party politics.

“This is about a very clear result from the public, and for members to dismiss this is just wrong.

“We have not got a mandate to do this. Unless you have another referendum or put it on an election manifesto, I question why this is happening.

“I’m not a total rebel, but it’s a conscience thing. For the cabinet to ignore the democratic process is, I think, quite undemocratic.

“When you have a referendum that clearly states what they (the public) don’t want to happen, it’s foolish to go against it.”

Cllr Barrett explained he still had Conservative principles and remained a part of the South Suffolk Conservatives Association.

But he said if nothing changes at the Babergh Conservatives Group during his three months as an independent councillor, he would find it “difficult to go back”.

The Sudbury councillor also said he could not see himself working with the current Babergh leader in future.

He added that other Babergh backbenchers shared his concerns about how the merger proposal was being dealt with, and if the cabinet seeks approval from the full council, he believes they will not receive majority support — despite the council being under Tory control.

The Free Press contacted Jennie Jenkins, leader of both Babergh District Council and the Babergh Conservatives Group, but has not received a response at the time of going to print.