Labour turned independent councillor says he can represent Blackpool ward from Devon

A Blackpool councillor has defended his decision to move across the country by saying that he can continue representing his ward from his new location in Devon.

Simon Blackburn, who represents the Brunswick ward in the city’s centre, resigned as Blackpool council leader in March after a “serious allegation” was made about him by a woman.

The nature of the complaint has never been made public, and Labour suspended him pending investigation after the allegation was made.

But, after he chose not to renew his Labour membership in April this year, the investigation was dropped with Labour saying it has no powers to investigate non-members.

Mr Blackburn has since relocated to the West Country, and questions have been raised about how he can represent residents in his ward almost 300 miles away.

Fellow Brunswick councillor Gary Coleman told the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service the situation was “embarrassing” for Mr Blackburn.

He added that it was “also sad” for the residents of Brunswick who elected him into the role that pays a basic allowance of £10,480 a year.

Mr Coleman, who also sits as an independent after his own separate dispute with Labour, said: “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.”

Councillor 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.”

It was “up to the people of Brunswick ward to decide if they are happy with this long distance arrangement,” Mr Williams added.

Mr Blackburn said that Brunswick residents would continue to be “fully and robustly represented” by him.

He added that he was “proud” of his “100% attendance at council meetings” and that most of his work is “done via email, phone and video conferencing.”

Mr Blackburn said he would relinquish his Brunswick seat at the 2023 local election.

When he left Labour to sit as an independent, the party lost its majority control of Blackpool Council.

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