Blackpool’s former council leader says he can still represent residents in the town despite moving nearly 300 miles away to Devon.
Coun Simon Blackburn announced in March he would step down from politics and relinquish his Brunswick seat at the next local elections in May 2023, and has since relocated to the West Country.
The national Labour party had suspended him in June 2020 following a ‘serious allegation’, which was never publicly revealed.
A year-long investigation by the party was dropped once Coun Blackburn left Labour when his membership lapsed in April.
Coun Simon Blackburn
Now questions have been raised about his ability to represent his ward from 280 miles away in Devon, for which he receives the basic councillor’s allowance of £10,480 a year.
Fellow Brunswick councillor Gary Coleman, who is now an Independent after his own fall-out with Labour, said: “I have no doubt that if any other (opposition) councillor had moved to Devon, Coun Blackburn would have been saying how ridiculous the situation was.
“It seems hard to imagine he will be making weekly 560 mile round trips back to Blackpool for council and ward business during the next 18 months, especially when he has publicly stated he is buying a home in the West Country and pursuing new career and business interests.
“I think the whole situation is not just embarrassing for Coun Blackburn and his friends in the Labour group, but it is also sad he lives closer to Guernsey, Jersey and France than he does to the residents of Brunswick ward who elected him.”
Coun Coleman said a by-election could have taken place in Brunswick at the same time as other by-elections were held in Blackpool in May, but it suited the Labour group politically for Coun Blackburn to remain on the council.
After his Labour membership lapsed, Coun Blackburn opted to become a non-aligned Independent member on the council.
The move meant Labour lost overall control of the council – but Coun Blackburn has continued to support his former party in the council chamber.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said: “I’m not sure how anyone can effectively represent the people who voted for them when they are living nearly 300 miles away.
“Coun Blackburn is now an independent councillor ,receiving a councillor’s allowance from Blackpool Council.
“It’s up to the people of Brunswick ward to decide as to whether or not they are getting adequate support and representation from one of their councillors and if they are happy with this long distance arrangement. “
But Coun Blackburn said he was able to continue representing his constituents and he regularly travelled to Blackpool.
He said: “I’m proud of my 100 per cent attendance at council meetings, and intend to keep that up.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that most tasks can be done via email, phone and video conferencing, and that’s largely how I’ve done my Brunswick casework for many years anyway.
“The residents of Brunswick, who voted for me, will continue to be fully and robustly represented by me, as they have been since 2007, until the next election in May 2023.”
He said when he announced his decision to step down from the council he had “made it clear that we had bought our dream home in the West Country.”
He added: “My children live in Blackpool, my parents in the Ribble Valley, and my partner and I have family in Birmingham and Shropshire.
“One of the joys of being almost entirely retired, is that we can split our time between all of those places as and when required. ”
The Labour group on Blackpool Council did not respond to a request for a comment.
Coun Blackburn currently has a 100 per cent attendance record having attended meetings of the full council in September and November. He is not a member of any committees.