28 Great Yarmouth councillors facing disciplinary action

Defiant cross-party opposition to staging a referendum on the question of introducing a directly-elected mayor has left 28 Great Yarmouth borough councillors – including the entire cabinet – facing possible disciplinary action.

They were all last night facing a standards committee inquiry after defying legal advice from the authority's solicitor Chris Skinner during a meeting of the full council.

Councillors refused to endorse a draft constitution so the mayor referendum can go ahead on May 5 despite a clear warning that it was their legal duty to do so.

He said if they failed to approve the constitution for public consultation, he would be obliged to record it in a monitoring officer's report and inform the Secretary of State for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, that the council had taken an illegal position.

The rebellion has created what Mr Skinner described as a 'complete impasse', and enraged campaigners for a directly-elected mayor whose 3,500-signature petition triggered the legal requirement to hold the referendum.

As a result of complaints already lodged by the public, the 15 councillors who voted against the constitution and 13 who abstained are now certain to face a preliminary standards committee inquiry.

The 'no' vote at first appeared to rule out a May 5 referendum, however, the EDP understands that the government is set to tell the council it can still go for May 5 without carrying out fresh public consultation on its constitution.

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Council leader Barry Coleman, who abstained in the vote, described the council's rebellion as 'democracy working'. He said at a time when the council was struggling to cope with a shrinking budget it was being asked to spend �50,000 on holding a referendum for a directly-elected mayor that neither side of the chamber wanted.

Labour leader Mick Castle, who is leading the campaign for a directly-elected mayor in face of opposition from his own party, said he had been left 'gobsmacked' by the council's rebuff.