COUNCIL chiefs in Burton have taken the decision to sever the town’s ties with one of the poorest countries in the world, saying the relationship is no longer viable.
East Staffordshire Borough Council decided against renewing its twinning arrangement with Blantyre, in Malawi, due to cost, as well as concerns over human rights in the country.
Council leader Richard Grosvenor also said he could not support councillors taking trips to the country, and claimed members had previously used it as an excuse for a ‘jolly’.
He said the council needed to focus on issues that would directly affect the people of East Staffordshire.
The two regions have been twinned for more than 20 years, with the relationship remaining strong until the turn of the century. It included various fund-raising schemes, donations from the county’s fire service as well as visits by medical experts from Burton’s Queen’s Hospital.
Since then relations have cooled, with cracks beginning to appear over the last couple of years.
A letter sent by the council seeking assurances about the southern African nation’s human rights record in 2010 went unanswered, with representatives from Malawi attempting to resume ties again only recently.
The Conservative-controlled council was of the view that the project was no longer financially sustainable, although there was some support for continuing with it at the council’s latest meeting at Burton Town Hall.
Labour’s Ali Chaudry said the council had a responsibility to continue to support the nation, which is one of the poorest in the world and is blighted by issues such as famine, HIV and AIDs.
But the council’s chief executive, Andy O’Brien, said ploughing funds into the project would ‘have implications at a time of austerity’.
Councillor Grosvenor (pictured left) said: “During the 90s there was a great deal of activity and we had a good relationship. At its height the fire service donated fire engines to Malawi, this council donated desktop PCs, and doctors exchanged expertise and equipment.
“But as time went on activity fell off and the partnership virtually became an excuse for jollies for this council.”