Tory Plymouth leader took 42 days off

He’d told council it was “two-to-three” days

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

The leader of Plymouth City Council has come under fire after it emerged he was on leave for 42 days last summer, despite him publicly stating he had only absent for “two-to-three days.” 

It follows a question by Labour leader Tudor Evans during a full council meeting last September in which he asked Cllr Richard Bingley: “Could you give us a rundown of how many council meetings you attended during your five week absence from the city this summer?”

Mr Bingley, the Conservative leader who represents Southway, insisted: “I was not absent from the city for five weeks this summer.” 

However, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into Cllr Bingley’s official diary submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, it has emerged there were 42 days in which it was marked “Leaders leave – Uncontactable” including the whole of August and an 11-day stretch from 25 June to 5 July.  

While there is no indication whether Cllr Bingley was out of the city during this time, opposition councillors say his statement that “I had a pre-arranged vacation and then a very, very short trip; two to three days” was misleading and failed to truly reflect his “uncontactable” status. 

Responding to the details in the FOI, Ham councillor Mr Evans said: “The reason I asked the original question in full council was because I think it’s important that the residents of Plymouth know whether the city’s Conservative administration is putting proper effort into their extremely responsible jobs. 

“That’s what we in Plymouth Labour do when we are in charge.

“No one begrudges anyone a holiday, but to be uncontactable for an entire month is simply not acceptable when you have the huge responsibility – and privilege – of running our city.

“That’s why I challenged Cllr Bingley about his absence and it looks as though he wasn’t being entirely open with me when he replied.”

Leader of the Independent Alliance and councillor for Compton, Nick Kelly – a former Conservative leader of the council – also suggested Cllr Bingley had been dishonest.

“This FOI has revealed the truth and I’m pleased the facts are now in the public domain,” he said.

“Cllr Bingley’s response to full council showed a distinct lack of honesty, clarity and the truth regarding his questioned absence this summer.”

Cllr Kelly also said there were several high-profile events from which the leader had been absent. 

“This is not an isolated incident. Cllr Bingley in his capacity as leader has other notable absences at key civic events, such as the King’s Proclamation, the Keyham anniversary memorial, 40th anniversary of the Falklands Veterans and, only last week, at the first year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. 

“To many this shows a complete lack of leadership, respect and commitment to the people of Plymouth. 

“Cllr Bingley’s past conduct, in addition to this latest revelation seriously questions his character and capability to lead Plymouth.”

However, Cllr Bingley insisted the official diary was not an indication of the work he was doing throughout the summer months.  

“This council diary only outlines council-organised meetings,” he said. “The role of council leader is that they are also a political party leader and, thus, the majority of political meetings, mentoring, telephone calls, meetings with helpers and candidates, party policy-reading and deliberation, campaigning, delivery, are not provided within this diary.

“Indeed, it is unlawful for local government officials to handle party political campaign business. 

“Finally, it is worth reflecting that elected councillors are not full-time members of parliament, we do not have private offices to support us, and our community duties must be managed alongside other aspects of family and working life. 

“It is an honour to be a Plymouth city councillor and to lead PCC, but it is important to acknowledge that this single, official diary is just a single part of the engagements and communications that a council leader undertakes.”

The Tories control Plymouth City Council but have fewer seats than Labour.  The Conservatives hold 25 seats, Labour have 23 and the Independent Alliance have five.

A third of the city’s seats will be contested in May’s local elections.