Councillor loses seat over illness

Mark Bamforth during his time as postmaster at Warton Street, Lytham
Mark Bamforth during his time as postmaster at Warton Street, Lytham
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A Lytham councillor is calling for a change to the rules after losing his seat because of a continuing illness – just two and half years after he clinched a convincing victory in a by-election.

Mark Bamforth, who is a long-time sufferer from agoraphobia – a fear of being in public places – has been told he can no longer sit on Fylde Council after failing to attend a single council or committee meeting since April.

Council chief executive Allan Oldfield informed Mr Bamforth by letter that his six-month absence from meetings breaches the Local Government Act 1972 and that the council has no choice but to remove him.

A by-election for the seat in St John’s ward looks set to follow, with the decision to be confirmed at the next meeting of the full council in December.

Mr Bamforth, who ran the Warton Street post office in Lytham for many years until it closed last year, polled almost two thirds of the vote to retain the seat for the Ratepayers’ group in the March 2014 by-election which followed the death of previous incumbent Kath Harper.

He received 804 votes out of 1,229 cast with closest rival Brenda Blackshaw of the Conservatives polling 205.

Mr Bamforth, who previously served on Fylde Council for eight years from 1991, has suffered from agoraphobia since his teens but for many years was able to keep it under control.

He said it had returned in the late 1990s but when he stood for the by-election, he had felt confident enough that he would be able to serve perfectly well as an active councillor.

“I pride myself on being more of a ‘doer’ than a talker and I am proud of the things I have got done while I have been on the council,” he said.

“But the condition I have can make it impossible for me to leave the house, or there have been other times when I have been given a lift to meetings or events and not been able to leave the car.

“Having the post office effectively allowed me to work from home and I have been able to do the same with council work, by email and phone and the like.

“I am involved with other organisations and many of them use conference calls and programmes such as Facetime to allow me to contribute rather than travel.

“The rules on serving councillors don’t allow for that kind of input and I think that needs to be looked at.

“It was a shock to get the letter telling me I had lost my place on the council but it seems I have just have to accept it, with no grounds for appeal.

“I know rules are rules but I think such alternative methods of communication could be looked at to allow greater flexibility.”

Fylde Council said in a statement: “One of the national legal requirements set out by central government for an elected member at any local authority in the country is that they attend at least one council meeting within a six-month period. If an elected member has a medical condition which prevents them from attending meetings they have the opportunity to apply for a dispensation to the council.

“Historically, at Fylde, dispensations have been granted by the full council when requested.

“Unfortunately Mr Bamforth failed to attend at least one meeting in a six-month period and he did not make a request to the council for dispensation.

“As a consequence, the law is that Mr Bamforth can no longer retain his seat.

“Fylde Council does not have the authority to operate outside the requirement of the law and cannot grant any waiver or dispensation after the fact.”