QUESTIONS are being asked about whether a Lib Dem leader can fulfil his role after he took a job in Saudi Arabia.
Councillor Paul Whittle represents Fareham East on Fareham Borough Council and is the Lib Dem opposition leader. But he now faces criticism after taking a job – advertised at £180,000 – more than 4,000 miles away.
Critics are especially agitated after he did not show up at the Local Government Association conference due to work commitments when the council had spent more than £500 on his ticket.
Tory leader Sean Woodward said the non-attendance proves he cannot carry out his responsibilities and he should consider stepping down – something Cllr Whittle strongly denies.
Campaign group The TaxPayers’ Alliance said it is concerned that taxpayers’ money was wasted – despite Cllr Whittle offering to pay it back from his £13,000 per year councillor allowances.
Andy Silvester, of The TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘This costly no-show will only add to suspicions that Cllr Whittle can’t balance the responsibilities of a local representative with a job on the other side of the world.
‘He should pay back the ticket out of his own pocket – paying it out of his allowances is just shuffling taxpayers’ money around, rather than refunding them.’
Other councillors have been quick to raise questions about his job, which he took two weeks before he was re-elected in May.
Deputy Tory leader Trevor Cartwright said there was a difference between working full-time locally and commuting to Saudi Arabia.
Cllr Cartwright said he worked for 10 years in Portsmouth while a councillor, so he appreciates the difficulties of juggling responsibilities.
However he added: ‘You can either be in your ward or working abroad, you cannot do both.’
Ukip’s Chris Wood said: ‘Someone working in Saudi Arabia will find it difficult to hold the Conservative administration to account.’
Cllr Whittle said his job as director of contracts at the Colleges of Excellence in Riyadh was full-time but flexible. He said he could be contacted via email and phone, and frequently travels back to his Fareham home.
Cllr Whittle said: ‘I always attend council meetings to fulfil my duties to my residents and the council. I am one of the few who work, I get a little bit irritated when you say “how can you be a councillor and work?”
‘If somebody can prove that I would not be able to represent residents then they would have a point. Nobody could suggest that I do not work hard and do my job.
‘I like to deal with people face-to-face and I will be at as many meetings as I can manage.’
Ward colleague and fellow Lib Dem Katrina Trott was quick to defend him.
She said: ‘He’s standing up for his residents. The Tories are stirring up trouble and would like to have him gone and he is an effective opposition leader. We have every confidence in him as leader.’
However, these assurances are not enough for some.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘Perhaps he should spend more time in his ward Fareham East, than in the Middle East.’
Missed conference sparks row
IT’S the biggest event in the local government calendar and one that Lib Dem leader councillor Paul Whittle missed at a cost of more than £500.
The Local Government Association’s annual conference was held in Bournemouth on July 8 and July 7.
Traditionally, Fareham’s council leader, opposition leader and chief executive attend the event every year.
Tickets cost £495 plus VAT and were booked by council officers in February.
Cllr Whittle claims he told officers a week before that he could not attend, something the council denies.
A council spokesman said: ‘At no point were we informed that Cllr Whittle would not be attending the event.’
‘Of course he can’t do his job properly, how can he?’
RESIDENTS of Fareham East ward have spoken about their opinions of their globe-trotting ward councillor Paul Whittle and his exotic job.
Neil Slatcher, 35, said: ‘I don’t think he will commute, I think he will be over there more than he will be over here.’
Vernon Ross, 86, said: ‘I don’t think he can do his job properly, how can he? I don’t think you should be the leader of the Lib Dems and be out in Saudi Arabia.
‘I did vote for the Lib Dems. When I look back at my life it doesn’t make a lot of a difference who represents me either locally or nationally.
‘They’re all in it for their own ends.’