A ONE-TIME senior councillor has launched a blistering broadside at the borough’s Conservative cabinet.

Oliver Donachie, who left the Swindon Tories last month, says those at the helm of the local authority are “stale and lethargic” and “asleep at the wheel”.

Coun Donachie’s angry response came after what he called an “attack” by council leader David Renard.

He had served as the cabinet member for economy and place and says Coun Renard’s account of his resignation is “a complete distortion of the facts”.

When Coun Donachie stepped down Coun Renard said he did so as he was unhappy at the role he had been offered in a rejigged cabinet.

But Coun Donachie insists it was because he was concerned at a change to the council’s constitution. 

He is now an Independent councillor, representing the same Haydon Wick ward as Coun Renard.

Coun Donachie said: “I remain a Conservative but this stale and lethargic administration has been allowed to perform the same old annual routines and speeches in regards to budgets and other matters and are simply asleep at the wheel.

“It is for that reason that I cannot support this Conservative group under its current leadership model.

“As I have made clear to him (Coun Renard) my door remains open to the leader of the council should he wish to step away from bunker mentality and come and hear some ground truths.

“Until that day arrives I will continue to ask my residents to consider why it is in their interest to lend the people in charge of these decisions your vote at election time and how the probable annual rises in tax and cuts in services is not in their collective interest unless the justification is clear and transparent.”

The special committee of cross-party members was set up to replace full council for the duration of lockdown.

Coun Donachie said he was particularly concerned about the new ability for officers themselves to determine what is a “non-controversial” decision and act upon it.

It was confirmed by the Legal and Democratic officer at a special committee meeting on May 7 that this change was permanent and went further than the Covid-19 crisis.

Coun Donachie had abstained when a Labour amendment to a report was passed and attached to the  motion.

Three other Tory cabinet members, deputy leader Russell Holland, Cathy Martyn and Maureen Penny, also opposed the amendment and voted against the motion, which was passed with Labour and Liberal Democrat votes and the support of Coun Renard.

Coun Donachie said: “Sadly the leader of the council’s response seems more interested in attacking the individual rather than the point being made, a recurring strategy for this administration.

“The fact is that simply challenging the governance around issues such as PPE, clinical bed availability, the imminent recession for the economy, future rises in council tax and lowering of services, lowering of staff numbers at the council and many other critical issues was met with Coun Renard refusing to meaningfully engage in these matters – or more importantly agree a framework of governance that ensures open and transparent operation around decisions.

“This is a complete failure on our shared responsibility to the residents of Swindon.

“Since resigning my position I have been contacted by numerous current and previous employees of the council who have genuine concerns about what has happened to them or their workmates and I have heard some very harrowing stories.

“They and others need a voice around the changes being made in the organisation and again, Coun Renard refused to hear my view on this as well.”

“I remain an elected councillor and I will carry out my number one duty to my residents to the best of my ability and will engage with anyone who wants to take part in clear and truthful debate about the future of the council under the current senior administration team.

“I hope all councillors across all parties take part because these reductions to services and member oversight once made will never be undone.

“People deserve an explanation on how the potential maximum increase on council tax, every year into the future is being overseen and justified when contrasted to the cuts in services themselves.”

Coun Renard has taken on responsibility for the economy in Swindon following Cound Donachie’s exit.

He said: “This is a sad situation because for many years Councillor Donachie was a loyal and hardworking member of the Conservative team and voted in favour of everything the Conservative cabinet did at every council meeting.

“These include the governance changes which he seconded at cabinet and are a matter of public record. Indeed, he helped to shape the proposals at the Corporate Governance Working Group.

“Councillor Donachie nominated me for leader but, unfortunately, when he read the refreshed cabinet portfolios including the newly-created cabinet member for climate change, he said he did not agree with them and then resigned.

"I had three long conversations with him over a 24-hour period listening to his views, during which time he was asked to consider an alternative cabinet position, but did not wish to accept anything else so he did not withdraw his resignation.

“I am entirely satisfied that the Conservative administration is doing the very best it can to take Swindon forward in a positive way. 

"I will not be commenting further on this matter as we need to be focused on our response to Covid-19 and we will be adopting a recovery plan to get Swindon back up and running as soon as possible whilst continuing to protect our residents.”