Row between Mansfield Labour leader and MP rumbles on over email comments and funding shortfall

A row has broken out between Mansfield District Council’s Labour group leader and a Conservative MP over email comments concerning a funding shortfall for the town’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) bid.

By Dale Spridgeon
Friday, 26th June 2020, 3:01 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th June 2020, 9:39 am

Andy Abrahams – who is also the town’s executive mayor – has submitted a complaint to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner over an email sent to him by Mansfield MP Ben Bradley.

He claims the email from Mr Bradley ‘inferred’ that complaints about funding shortfalls to the Minister would be “detrimental” to considerations over Mansfield’s FHSF submission.

Mr Abrahams wrote to the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) Robert Jenrick about the shortfall due to loss of income and additional expenditure during the Covid crisis saying the Government was “failing to keep the promise” to do “whatever it takes” to support Local Government.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

MP Ben Bradley (Picture Ben Bradley)

As Mr Abrahams took his complaints public, Mr Bradley said publicly that he had had “disagreements on a political level” with the Mayor in the past, but had hoped that this could have been kept “private and professional.”

He said he was “frustrated” that Mr Abrahams had sent out press releases and hoped it would not be detrimental to what they were trying to achieve for Mansfield.”

On Facebook he said it was not the case that he said you have to be nice to Minsters “to get stuff.”

The full statement from Mr Abrahams reads: “We need to put trust, openness and standards back in politics.

Andy Abraham, Mansfield District Council's Labour group leader

“I have written to the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Rt Hon R Jenrick several times over the last 3 months about the council’s funding shortfall due to loss of income and additional expenditure during the Covid crisis, reminding him that the Government was failing to keep its promise to ‘do whatever it takes’ to support Local Government.

“Additionally, I had expressed my disappointment about a ‘token financial contribution’ towards the repair works to the quarry face at Berry Hill following a collapse due to climatic conditions after similar promises had not been fulfilled.

“I had been appealing for the support of our local MP to help protect Mansfield’s residents from cuts in services and the reduction in investment in regenerating the town centre due to the combined shortfall of over £6m. My aim always was to secure the maximum funding for Mansfield to protect services and improve the district.

“However on the day before we submitted our fantastic application for £25m of funding for the Future High Streets Fund, instead of his support, I received an email full of phrases including: ‘your letter may be highly damaging to our ability to get support from the department in future’, ‘Your letter risks damaging the Secretary of State’s good will, and he may be less inclined to help us as a result’ and ‘I am shortly to be going back to ask for Robert’s good will and support for our FHSF bid. Your email certainly will not help, and I hope it does not detract from our ability to secure the funding.’

“I couldn’t believe what I was reading, our local MP was saying that the success of our funding bid of much needed investment into Mansfield might be prejudiced by my democratic duty to hold the government to account over other failed funding promises for Mansfield.

“I came into politics to fight for fairness and transparency. The public are sick of ‘behind the scenes’ arrangements, people want to see transparency and justification of how decisions are made. They are fed up with politicians making bold statements and promises during crises only to go back on their word as soon as ‘the heat is off’.

The Parliamentary code sets out the standards expected of our MP’s: Objectivity - ‘In carrying out public business..., holders of public office should make choices on merit’; I want the Minister’s assurance that Mansfield’s Future High Streets Fund submission will be judged on merit and not disadvantaged as Mr Bradley’s email inferred because the Minister’s ‘goodwill has not been received.

“Accountability - Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office;

“Openness - Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.

“They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands and also the Parliamentary Behaviour Code - Members are also expected to observe the principles set out in the Parliamentary Behaviour Code of respect, professionalism, understanding others’ perspectives, courtesy, and acceptance of responsibility.

“I was brought up on a council estate with the working class values that if you work hard and do the right things you will achieve your aims. I will always call out things that I perceive to be wrong and although the government not honouring their promises erodes your faith and trust in them when they give their word, the greater wrong is when our MP, on behalf of the Minister tries to bully you to prevent any criticism.

“This complaint was not made to judge on the rights and wrongs of decisions made as they affect Mansfield, although my elected colleagues and I are obviously unhappy with the decisions taken, but to demonstrate that proper scrutiny and challenge should be allowed by the public and especially by elected members without veiled threats that future funding bids will not be assessed on their merits alone but subject to ‘favour or not’ of the Minister.

“The communications from Mr Bradley representing the Minister have the effect of undermining the democratic process and fairness and, if the principle is not challenged, an attempt to undermine the position of all the elected members to represent their constituents which would indirectly damage the reputation and integrity of being represented in the Parliament.

“As I wrote to our MP and the Minister in my letter of June 9, I am politely asking that Mr Bradley retracts any element of implied threat connecting the genuine concerns about the funding short falls to our Future High Streets Fund bid and that you give reassurances, not just to me but to the community we represent, that the FHSF submission will be judged on merit alone and not by ‘grace and favour’.

“We know we have a quality submission that meets all the government’s criteria to bring housing back to the town centre designed to meet the ‘climate change’ agenda, re-purpose the marketplace with retail that will support it as the centre of events and a place that is pedestrian and cycle friendly with open green spaces where visitors can rest and dwell, bring student accommodation to the town and improve accessibility and access for all. We believe the bid deserves the full £25m and will be watching the award very closely.”

In reply, Mr Bradley told the Chad: ‘’I’ve worked really positively and constructively with ffficers at MDC (Mansfield District Council) and other authorities over the course of the covid challenge, and done everything in my power to make a case to Government that fits with our local priorities.

“Together we’ve succeeded in securing some great funding and opportunities, including the Future High Street Fund. Whilst I’ve had some disagreements on a political level with the Mayor, I was hoping that we could keep that private and professional, but he has now sent out press releases about it.“It’s therefore really frustrating that increasingly the Mayor seems to speak as the ‘Labour Leader’ rather than as the Mayor, sharing views which the council have openly said they do not endorse, and which can only therefore serve to undermine his staff and damage our ability to put forward positive and coherent plans for Mansfield.

“It is very difficult for me to present to Government a clear view of what the council wants, when the Mayor has a view that contradicts his own officers. I hope that he can rectify this as soon as possible and I will of course continue to work with officers in the same positive and constructive way as I always have’’.

And writing on Facebook, he added: “You may have seen that Mansfield's Labour Leader has been criticising me in the press this week, making a private argument now unfortunately in to a public squabble where I have little choice but to defend myself.

“So I wanted to set the record straight. The short version is that currently the council are telling Government one thing, whilst the Mayor is saying something else that is contradictory. He's doing it as the "Labour leader" rather than as the Mayor because even his own council don't endorse what he's saying.

“As you can imagine, that makes it incredibly difficult for me to present a coherent plan and a vision for Mansfield to the Government. Who are we listening to? The Mayor, or the officers?

“Sending party political letters that contradict your own team can only make it harder for us to make a case to Government!! I've pointed this out to the Mayor, and as a result he's apparently reported me to Parliamentary Standards *sigh*

“It's so frustrating because I have (and will continue) to work very hard to support the officers at the council with information and advice, and to secure funding. We've worked really positively together. It's just sad that the politicians involved seemingly won't leave the party politics to one side and get on board!!”