Councillor fails to apologise after breaching code of conduct

Colin Martin, Liberal Democrat candidate for South East Cornwall
Colin Martin, Liberal Democrat candidate for South East Cornwall

A Cornwall councillor could face censure after failing to apologise for calling on a council Cabinet member to quit their job as a hospital consultant.

Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Martin was ordered to apologise last year after taking to social media to criticise Andy Virr, Cabinet member for health and social care.

Cllr Martin, who represents Lostwithiel and Lanreath, was found to have breached the council’s code of conduct when he took to Twitter to criticise Cllr Virr using the hashtag #VirrOut. In a series of tweets on July 13 commented on ambulance delays at Royal Cornwall Hospital being caused by delays in the discharge of patients for social care.

The comments focused on the fact that Cllr Virr is a consultant at Royal Cornwall Hospital as well being a Cabinet member at Cornwall Council.

In one Tweet Cllr Martin wrote: “2021: @Conservatives win election and put Cllr Andy Virr in charge of Social Care AND Public Health; he does the job PART-TIME alongside 2nd job as Emergency Department consultant. His budget spirals out of control and three top Social Care officers quit within a year.”

Followed by: “Today: @CornwallCouncil Social Care is in meltdown; 200 people stranded in hospital. TWENTY ambulances queue to unload patients. 999 response time for heart attack is now over 2 HOURS! Cabinet Member for Social Care is not a part-time job! #VirrOut.”

One post, which was subject to the complaint against Cllr Martin, appears to have been removed. It stated: “If I were the Leader of the Council, I would start by telling the Cabinet Member for Social Care that he has to quit his second job, or quit his Cabinet post as he is clearly not capable of doing both.”

Conservative councillor Peter Guest submitted a formal complaint to Cornwall Council against Cllr Martin for the Tweets saying that they were “insulting and disparaging of the Cabinet member’s efforts and commitment to the post”.

In responding to the original complaint, Cllr Martin told the council that they were a proper and legitimate part of holding the council’s administration to account.

The original complaint was upheld, with the council stating that the issue highlighted the “narrow boundary” between making political statements and being in breach of the code. However because the comments called on Cllr Virr to quit his job at RCHT the comments were found to be in breach of the code.

As a result Cllr Martin was ordered to apologise on social media to Cllr Virr and was given 28 days to do so. However Cllr Martin has failed to apologise.

The matter is now set to be considered by the council’s standards committee which will decide whether any action should be taken against Cllr Martin. The meeting will take place on Thursday (February 2) at New County Hall in Truro.