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Councillor steps down over code of conduct

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

Margaret Freeman.

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A PENZANCE councillor has resigned over a row about declarations of interest.

Margaret Freeman has become the latest councillor to make the dramatic move, slamming the new system which pushes members to reveal not only their own, but their spouses', details online.

By refusing to declare any interests the councillor says she has been "criminalised" and left with no choice but to stand down.

"To ask unpaid volunteers to provide personal and searching information which will be published on the internet is in my opinion a step too far," she said.

As part of a new policy within the Code of Conduct, councillors must declare their employment or business and any property interests within the council area. The legislation also calls for their spouse or civil partner's details to be recorded. This information is then available online by logging on to Cornwall Council's website.

Breaching the rules is a criminal offence and councillors can be fined up to £5,000 and disqualified from being a member of the local authority for up to five years.

"Even though I have no spouse or partner and no property interests in Penzance, I object in principle and will not be signing the form," she said.

"I would be putting myself in breach of the law and criminalising myself which as a law-abiding citizen I have no wish to do."

Ms Freeman, a member of the town council since 1995, said her decision had not been taken lightly.

"I have nothing to hide but I object strongly to this," she said. "It is using a sledge hammer to crack a nut as far as I am concerned."

Adding that she would miss her time at the council, Ms Freeman said she had no choice but to stand up and be counted.

"It is very sad," she said. "This has been part of my life for 15 years.

"If the forms were just going to go in the town clerk's office as they are at the moment, that is bad enough but it is the fact that they are going on the internet along with people's partners and spouses."

She is not the first west Cornwall councillor to speak out against the Code of Conduct changes. In July St Just stalwart Francis Angwin resigned, saying the policy was a serious invasion of his privacy.

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  • mygodlesslife  |  October 11 2012, 1:16PM

    "It is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut as far as I am concerned." The fact is, sledgehammers are very effective at cracking nuts. We should use that approach more often. Maybe more would get done. Seriously though, if Ms Freeman doesn't have anything to hide (and I have no reason to doubt this), her resignation is curious. I don't doubt her integrity, but I cannot for the life of me fathom what she means by saying she would be a criminal for not disclosing that which she has nothing to disclose. It's nonsense.

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  • toffer99  |  October 11 2012, 11:25AM

    Well, ex-councillor, you may well have no interests which would affect your decisions on behalf of us, your constituents, but others have. We citizens need to know them in order to check that they are not enriching themselves at our expense. Here's an example from http://tinyurl.com/8yc6fw8 "BBC Boss fails to declare conflict of interest in crucial BBC meeting, days before the NHS Bill became law. "If you have not already read the report on the BBC Boss's links to private healthcare you can do so here (at the link above). In short, Lord Patten is a board member of a private health firm operating from a tax haven and donating £400,000+ to the Tory party. His firm has failed 9 CQC health inspections this year and not one was reported by the BBC." Clarke does his research meticulously and always provides documentary proof of what he says. As he puts it "10 private healthcare firms. £10m in donations to the Tories. £5bn in NHS contracts. The most corrupt government in UK History." This is why public servants like councillors and MPs must provide details of their interests. At least we know how crooked is this Government that nobody elected, even if we can do nothing about it.

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