GROWING tensions between Southend’s council officials and elected councillors are emerging after a leading Independent quit with a volley of criticism.

The behind the scenes drama was sparked by the resignation of Independent councillor Paul Van Looy, who left the coalition running the council, claiming that the leadership was not willing to “get rid” of “dead wood” council officers.

His resignation caused councillors from the Conservative group and the Independents to begin making their own accusations about what had been taking place.

In one email exchange seen by the Echo, a Tory councillor told chief executive Alison Griffin that a “head needs to roll” at the council due to circumstances surrounding a traveller incursion.

The emails, from March, show Labour councillor Matt Dent had contacted council staff to ask whether an incursion at the Gasworks car park was being investigated, a response later that day said, “notices to quit have been issued”.

But when Mr Dent asked for an update two days later, a different council officer said police were “considering the evidence to serve a notice of eviction”.

Concerned that he had been given two different accounts, Mr Dent passed the emails to Conservative councillor Dan Nelson, who was overseeing community safety at the time.

Mr Nelson complained to the chief executive Ms Griffin and told her “someone’s head needs to roll for this”.

Mr Nelson, a Tory councillor for Southchurch, later confirmed the exchange was genuine.

“There is a fundamental problem in the council and we can’t hide our heads in the sand and pretend there isn’t,” he said.

“This is about people not doing their jobs...or ignoring us and it makes it very difficult to represent residents when the people who have the ability to get things done don’t want to talk to you.”

He added: “We are not asking for sympathy but when do we stop saying the politicians are at fault and start to look at the systems behind them?”

Mr Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward, also confirmed the emails were genuine.

Southend Council made it clear an apology had been made and the officer who had initially responded to Mr Dent over the traveller incursion had “incorrect” information.

However, further criticisms of staff have come from Independent councillor Stephen Aylen, who has called the behaviour of officers “totally unacceptable”.

He accused them to talking to councillors like “stupid kids”.

Mr Aylen, who represents Belfairs ward, said he had tried to raise formal complaints with the council, but it has had no impact.

“We get told that we mustn’t criticise officers because they get upset,” he continued.

“My job is to represent residents and get officers to do their jobs. That is what I am elected to do.

“If they are not doing their jobs properly of course I will criticise them.”

The comments come after both Conservative leader, councillor Tony Cox, and Independent councillor Brian Ayling spoke out against the council last week.

The council has declined to say whether an investigation into the allegations will take place.

However, Labour councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, reiterated that there is an internal process that should be followed and councillors should not publicly criticise officers.

He said: “In this situation, it is important to understand the context.

“The council is made up of 51 councillors, and officers have to operate in a political environment.

“It is therefore inevitable that tensions will sometimes arise, particularly when something a councillor wants cannot be actioned, or they do not get the answer they may want to hear.

“There are numerous effective communications between officers and councillors every week relating to the hundreds of services that the council delivers, and where errors occur, we work quickly to correct them.”