THE SUSPENSION of the chief executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly could leave the islands with diminished powers, or even lead to the end of their unique council, a former chairman has warned.
Roy Duncan, who in 1985 became the youngest chairman of the council at the age of 26, has expressed his concern for the 100-year-old authority in the wake of the suspension of Philip Hygate.
In a communication to Amanda Martin, chairman of the policy and resources committee, and to all councillors, Mr Duncan questions the committee's authority to have acted in the way it did.
Forecasting that Scilly could end up with diminished powers, he said the action "could have far-reaching consequences" for the council.
Mr Hygate was suspended "as a neutral act" following complaints over his behaviour as chief executive and amid concerns about a "climate of fear" in the islands.
The action taken by the policy and resources committee had been questioned by Mr Hygate's lawyer, Peter Keith-Lucas, who suggested it was "ultra vires," ie, beyond the powers of the committee.
However, local government adviser Adam Barker – and Mrs Martin – insisted professional and legal advice had been taken.
In a letter to Mrs Martin this week, Mr Duncan wrote: "As chairman of the committee responsible for the council's resources, please could you ensure, for purposes of transparency, that all costs relating to the action taken against the chief executive are accounted for separately from any other council business.
"It should be clear to the council and the public, the financial cost and effect of the action taken.
"If the lawyer is correct, you and some other members are acting outside the law and ... not covered by council indemnity."
He suggested any costs incurred in the action should be borne "not by the council/community ... but by the members taking the action".
Mr Duncan warned: "I have never been so worried and concerned for this council and its future. I believe that the action that the chairman of the council and yourself instigated is ill-advised, at best premature and could have serious and far-reaching consequences for this council and its future.
"I genuinely fear that this could lead to the end of the unique Council of the Isles of Scilly.
"I believe we could end up as a parish 'in' Cornwall with about as much influence as, say, Stithians or Porthgwarra (ie, not nearly as much as, say, Camborne)."
Mr Duncan terms the suspension as "possibly the most dangerous decision this council has made".
Asked to comment on Mr Duncan's claims, Mrs Martin said: "I would like to reassure the community that at all times we are taking the proper legal and professional advice."
Council chairman Mike Hicks said Mr Duncan's allegations were exacerbating the climate of fear and were "an appalling attack on Amanda's ability".
Trying to frighten members was "quite unnecessary", he said.
Mr Duncan later told The Cornishman he was "reassured" by the number of unsolicited positive comments he had received about Mr Hygate, from both inside and outside the Town Hall.
In his experience he was "an honourable and a kind man", who had done much for the islands. He cited the airport, the new school, the sports hall, the Buzza Bus, the covered swimming pool, £8 million for the quay, etc.
He said the islands were "doing well" and Mr Hygate had not been given the credit he deserved.