A COUNCILLOR who has been sunning himself in Spain since the beginning of January and hasn't attended a council meeting in seven months is still collecting his £7,429 allowance.

Coun Barrie Thompson (Lab, Parks) says he has no plans to give back the money, despite not being available to his ward residents while in Spain.

He last attended a council meeting on July 19, 2007.

Since then he has missed all eight of the meetings he has been required to attend.

However, he did manage to attend three meetings of the South-West Regional Assembly in December, so under local government rules is not in immediate danger of being disqualified.

He is now in the process of resigning but does not know how long it will take.

He has no intention of returning to England until the beginning of May.

Conservatives have called for a by-election to be held, but the Labour Group says there is no need for this, as elections are being held in May.

Coun Thompson, 70, who has been suffering with ill health, spoke to the Adver from his rented apartment in south west Spain.

He said: "I was intending to come back around now but my family say I'm looking much better and that the sun is doing me a lot of good.

"I still think I am able to do my duties from Spain.

"I have been a community leader for 40 years, with 30 of those as an elected representative.

"But there comes a time when you have to accept the fact that it is time to move on. That is why I emailed the council to tell them I was going to resign."

Coun Thompson's impending retirement was brought up at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night by Coun Justin Tomlinson (Con, Abbey Meads).

He paid tribute to Coun Thompson as a "long-standing member of the council who was never afraid to speak his mind."

Coun Thompson said: "Justin Tomlinson was jumping the gun as usual."

On the subject of a by-election Labour leader Kevin Small said it would not be in the interest of taxpayers.

He said: "There is no secrecy about the fact that Barrie is going to resign.

"I would expect him to step down by around mid-March.

"We want to save the council taxpayers extra expense by not calling a by-election."

Robert Buckland, Conservative candidate for South Swindon, disagrees.

He said: "The Labour party need to answer to the people of Swindon.

"A by-election would give the people the chance to have their say - why should they have to wait?"

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Stan Pajak said: "If a councillor is unable to carry out his duties he should throw in the towel.

"It's not just about missing meetings it's also about sorting out problems in the ward.

"The question of whether there should be a by-election is difficult.

"Is it worth the expense to have a councillor who would be there just for a month or so?"