UNANSWERED questions over the threat of extremism is a factor behind a Tory’s decision to quit Portsmouth City Council, The News can reveal.
Cllr Alistair Thompson says the authority failed to give him proper answers over whether it was doing enough to stop youngsters travelling to fight for Isil in Iraq and Syria.
A number of young men left this city to go and fight for a faction which is very alien, and as an authority, could we have saved their lives and prevented them from ever going?Tory councillor Alistair Thompson
And he said the damage that did to the reputation of the council made him realise he had to walk away.
Cllr Thompson, who has decided to stand down as a Conservative representing Hilsea at today’s local election, said: ‘This was a serious issue. A number of young men left this city to go and fight for a faction which is very alien, and as an authority, could we have saved their lives and prevented them from ever going?
‘I do not think it was unreasonable to have asked these sort of questions.’
Cllr Thompson said responses given by the authority’s chief executive, David Williams, weren’t good enough, and he was promised a meeting over the work being done to curb extremism – but it never materialised.
Four young men from Portsmouth have died in Syria in the past year after becoming Jihadi fighters for Isil, including Ifthekar Jaman.
Cllr Thompson added: ‘The damage done to the democratic process, the damage done to the reputation of the council, in my opinion, were catalysts in my decision to go.’
But the council insists numerous briefing sessions were held with councillors, and it has forged strong links with the city’s three mosques.
A seminar and leaflets were produced educating people about the dangers of travelling to Syria.
Cllr Thompson says the council’s handling of the Ashya King affair is another reason why he’s leaving.
He quit a scrutiny panel which was investigating the authority’s handling of the boy’s access to healthcare as he felt it had been blocked from doing its work.
The council had found itself at the centre of a storm over a legal order preventing Ashya, from Southsea, from having crucial treatment for a brain tumour.
‘There was cross-party support for the scrutiny panel to carry out that investigation,’ said Cllr Thompson.
‘So (blocking that investigation) struck at the very heart of the democratic system that I have defended.’
According to the council, Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Board – which seeks to protect young people in the city – had decided to review the boy’s treatment so the panel’s involvement was therefore no longer needed.
Cllr Thompson also raised frustrations that residents were not listened to enough before the decision was made to approve plans to build flats on the former Southdown bus depot site.
He says First Wessex’s concerns that it would have lost a government grant to build the development should not have been taken into consideration.
...And some are saying goodbye after years of hard work
FIVE more councillors are bowing out following today’s local election in Portsmouth.
The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Steven Wylie and his Lib Dem colleagues Terry Hall, Les Stevens and Margaret Adair have chosen not to defend their seats.
Independent councillor Eleanor Scott is leaving to concentrate on writing a book about her time on the authority.
Cllr Wylie, who was first elected to the council in 2003, said it was a privilege to serve people.
‘I’m sure I will miss it all, but this is the right time for me as I have a young family,’ he said.
‘The council has taken up a big part of my life.
‘I have been in politics for a while and now it’s time for a change in direction and I am looking forward to more family time.
‘It has been a real, real honour to be the Lord Mayor in my final year.
‘I never thought when I moved to the city 22 years ago that I would become Lord Mayor.
‘I was also on the cabinet for five years.’
Cllr Hall was also first elected to the council in 2003.
She said: ‘My reason for standing down is entirely down to my age and the fact my husband has retired.
‘I’m 63, if I was to stay on for another four years I would be 67. It’s time for someone else to give it a go.
‘I will continue to support the party and Gerald Vernon-Jackson – but I am retiring.’
But Cllr Hall said she may be tempted to run for a seat on the council again if she misses city politics.
Cllr Adair is retiring after eight years on the council.
She hopes to get involved in voluntary work at Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Cllr Stevens has already admitted a rise in ‘political mudslinging’ was a factor in him wanting to stand down.