A row has broken out after a leaked e-mail revealed a Liberal Democrat councillor stated his party had ‘set a trap’ regarding the future of a transport service for vulnerable people.
Tory and independent councillors on Portsmouth City Council lambasted Councillor Steve Pitt during a full council meeting about the email in which the politician labelled transport cabinet member Councillor Jim Fleming a ‘lying toad’ after he granted £30,000 worth of funding to Pompey Dial A Ride, which saved the company from folding.
They have chosen to interpret it in a way which many members of the public would struggle to see. If they are trying to get one over on the one who saved the service then I will take that.Councillor Steve Pitt
The e-mail from Cllr Pitt was sent to the rest of the Lib Dem group on September 2 – the same day Cllr Fleming announced the funding in a video on the Portsmouth Conservatives’ Facebook page.
It read: ‘He’s a lying toad but we already knew that.
‘It’s clear from this that they have no intention of providing her (Dial A Ride operator Tracey Jones) with any money post next April.
‘However, we’ve laid the trap and I know, because I wrote the business plan, that they will fall into it. We need to bide our time.’
Cllr Pitt and fellow Lib Dems had worked with Ms Jones on a sustainable business plan ahead of the tens of thousands being awarded.
Dial A Ride has recently become a community interest company – meaning it is in a stronger position to apply for funding from organisations and is one rung down from charitable status.
Councillor Donna Jones, the Tory council leader labelled the email ‘sickening’.
She said: ‘It’s a disgraceful situation that the Liberal Democrats have tried yet again to put their own political gain before the people that we represent in this city.
‘For any member of this city council to use this as an opportunity for political gain is absolutely sickening.’
She added that following last year’s funding boost, the council was ‘hopeful’ that a bid to its voluntary sector challenge fund would be accepted.
Councillor John Ferrett (Ind), said: ‘What we have heard is shocking. What we have here is instead of trying to save the service, we have the Lib Dems trying to set it up for failure. They were more interested in setting a trap.’
Councillor Rob New (Cons) added: ‘They should be thoroughly ashamed.’
In response, Cllr Pitt said he stood by the e-mail and that he was still working with Dial A Ride to safeguard its future.
He told The News: ‘There was no political motivation in sending that e-mail.
‘They have chosen to interpret it in a way which many members of the public would struggle to see.
‘If they are trying to get one over on the one who saved the service then I will take that.’
He explained that ‘the trap’ referred to the idea that he believed that the Tory administration would not provide further funding for the service and that Cllr Pitt had worked had helped develop the plan which worked on the basis that more council funding would arrive this year.
Cllr Pitt added: ‘I’m livid that anyone twist in this way. I spend my time helping community groups so for them to say this is disgusting.’
Alan Priddy, who has worked with Cllr Pitt said: ‘I’ve been directly involved in Dial a Ride for over year and indirectly for over two. It was clear from the beginning it was Tracey that was being set up for a fall and then PCC would start its own service.
‘This is why I recommended we set a small trap to flush out the real reason why PCC had removed Dial a Ride’s funding.
‘It had nothing to do with Steve or politics. In business, knowing one side is playing dirty you can only fight fire with fire.
‘It was a huge shock to PCC when Tracey presented a solid business case for the funding to be re-instated and to blame and accuse Steve of any dirty tricks is appalling and further proves the nastiness of the ruling party.
‘The only way PCC can proceed with this attack it to have a go at me and I do not fancy their chances on that one.’
The row follows a previous e-mail blunder last year when Tory councillor Scott Harris was forced to apologise after he sent an email encouraging members to smear a constituent’s name.