"Lying" row between Lancaster City Council cabinet members during county speeding debate

The leader of Lancaster City Council accused a fellow cabinet member of lying to a meeting of Lancashire County Council, on which the pair also both sit.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 1st March 2021, 3:33 pm
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 8:38 pm

The row erupted during a debate into how to tackle speeding on Lancashire’s roads.

Labour city council leader Erica Lewis intervened after a speech by the Green Party’s Gina Dowding - who holds the sustainable neighbourhoods portfolio in the city - to claim that her colleague had “a really bad habit of selectively misquoting people”.

In response, County Cllr Dowding said that her leader on the Lancaster authority should be “less prickly”.

Cllr Gina Dowding, Lancaster City Council's cabinet member for sustainable neighbourhoods, and Cllr Erica Lewis, who leads the authority

The virtual gathering at County Hall had been discussing a call for Lancashire Constabulary to make speeding “a priority”.

County Cllr Dowding put forward an amendment to a motion by the ruling Conservative group - itself successfully amended by Labour - in which she called for the county council to “respond positively” to a plea from Lancaster City Council for it to be allowed to pilot a 20mph limit on all urban roads in the city, not just residential routes.

As she addressed the meeting, following a short adjournment to allow cross-party discussions on Labour’s amendment, County Cllr Dowding said: “I have already discovered that the Labour group won’t support [the Green Party] motion, because...they think there’s financial implications that couldn't cover it. On the other hand, this is a relatively low-cost intervention to reduce average speeds in our city centres.”

That prompted County Cllr Lewis to raise a “point of clarification”.

She said: “Cllr Dowding just lied to this meeting. She asked, during the course of this meeting, whether the Labour group was in a position to second [her] amendment and was told ‘no’, because we hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss this at the Labour group.

“Cllr Dowding has a really, really bad habit of selectively misquoting people and actually, given that she just asked for a favour, that seems pretty damn rude.

“So the reason the Labour group is not in a position to second this motion is because Cllr Dowding didn’t think to ask in time - it’s not about the actual substance.

“I would ask Cllr Dowding to be more careful about how she portrays correspondence between the two of us and I will note, once again, that she has just tried to mislead the council,” County Cllr Lewis declared.

In response, County Cllr Dowding said: “I accept that Cllr Erica Lewis is incredibly frustrated and irritated, but she really does need to be less prickly.

“It’s clear that Labour have financial concerns about this and I’m afraid that I don't act in the same way that Labour do with their cumbersome…” began County Cllr Dowding before becoming inaudible as County Cllr Lewis chimed back in:

“No, but what you do do is lie on a regular basis.”

As County Cllr Dowding continued to make her point, she was then drowned out by Lancashire County Council chairperson Susie Charles who told them to have the argument “outside the chamber”.

Ultimately, only County Cllr Dowding voted in favour of the Green Party amendment.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) approached the two colleagues to ask how and whether the dispute at County Hall would affect their working relationship on the Lancaster City Council cabinet, which comprises Labour, Green Party and independent members.

County Cllr Dowding said: “I've been involved in local politics for over 20 years and I am experienced enough to know that some debates get very robust.

“However in situations like these, even if there are misunderstandings, it is not appropriate to challenge other councillors' integrity. I can assure voters and fellow councillors I would not and do not ever lie to them.

“I fully expect our future debate, and work together at City, to be conducted in a respectful manner.

“More than ever before, it's important that everyone feels they can get involved in local politics, “ County Cllr Dowding said.

Meanwhile, County Cllr Lewis told the LDRS: “One of the challenges of working across parties is understanding each other's processes and practices. It's an ongoing process and one we've spent a bit of time on in Lancaster.

“For example, sometimes Labour group members find it challenging that the Green group doesn't vote together, and sometimes Green members find it challenging that the Labour group prefers to make decisions as a group.

“Lancaster's Labour group supported the 20mph trial, however, Cllr Dowding's amendment hadn't been available for the Lancashire Labour group to consider at its meeting the previous evening."