FIRSTLY, let's not take anything away from the English Riviera and South Devon Tourism and Hospitality Awards at the Palace Hotel in Torquay last week. It was a night for celebration and a chance to honour some remarkable success stories out in the holiday industry.
The Palace was a brilliant venue, the food and service superb and guest speakers broadcaster and explorer Monty Halls and Hannahs' inspirational leader Bronwen Hewitt were a delight. There was a real buzz to the place.
One man was conspicuous by his absence — Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver. He was replaced — very admirably, by the way — by deputy mayor Dave Thomas.
I gather the mayor was also not due to attend the English Riviera Tourism Company's annual industry update day at the Riviera International Conference Centre next week. Again, deputy mayor Thomas was on standby to fill his shoes.
I also gather Cllr Thomas was ready and willing to answer any difficult questions that may have came his way as the storm over the mayor's plans to cut the ERTC council cash support in half to £250,000 this year, and to nothing the year after, shows no sign of abating.
The mayor had so far stayed tight-lipped on the ERTC and budgets.
But I finally caught up with him for a few moments and he did open up just a little.
He was quick to lay the finger of blame for the huge cuts now facing the Town Hall on the Government and, in particular, local MPs Adrian Sanders and Sarah Wollaston who, he said, had voted for the Draconian reductions in Westminster.
He was also insistent 'he had done nothing wrong' and was 'clean and straight'.
It all came as pressure grew on him over a potential conflict of interest when discussing tourism-related matters within the council.
Questions have been raised over whether he should declare an interest as he has business links to the tourism industry and his partner, Linda Hill, runs what was the Torbay Hospitality Association and what is now the Torbay Tourism Association and whose Belgrave Road offices are owned by the mayor's family.
Torbay Council coalition group leader Mike Morey is the latest person to raise the potential conflict query.
He revealed to his followers on Twitter last week that a certain individual declared an interest when councillors were discussing the formation of the ERTC four years ago. That person was Gordon Oliver.
Cllr Morey said in is tweet: "Torbay Council meeting 29/9/09 Gordon Oliver declared a personal prejudicial interest in forming ERTC due to business affairs and left room."
Perhaps, Mr Oliver's interests have changed since 2009 so there is no conflict.
But Cllr Morey still plans to raise the issue with the council's monitoring officer. He adds: "We will be opposing the ERTC proposal."
He said he was mindful of the cuts in services but says the ERTC's potential budget reduction will 'wipe them out'.
Mayor Oliver was reluctant to talk ERTC.
He said: "I do not intend to comment because the budget process has not been started properly.
"There will be consultation opportunities in four or five weeks' time.
"My group has not even seen the major reductions to consider.
"I make no comment about the ERTC budget or any other at this stage.
"There will be a consultation process when they will see the entire budget and not just the first piece that has been made public.
"The rest of the budget has to go through the elected members consultation — children's services, adult social care."
He claimed: "These are the cuts that our MPs — Adrian Sanders and Sarah Wollaston — have voted for."
He says the council has already shaved £19million from past budgets and is now faced with finding another £22million over the next 12 months. And it could be even worse.
Mr Oliver said: "On the Government Intranet 10 days ago we saw there is another £5million cuts on top of the £22million. We have not heard anything from Adrian Sanders and Sarah Wollaston. Our MPs have not told us."
He did mention the ERTC but only briefly: "With the ERTC that was part of the process of considering where we have to make a start. They (the ERTC board) have made theirs (the potential cuts) public."
He said the last government had left the country with a 'dreadful legacy of debt'. We are paying the price for that. We have no choice.
"Elected members have to understand the scale of the problem so they have an understanding of what is the best thing to do for the interests of Torbay."
As for all the talk of possible conflicts of interest, the mayor said: "I have been straight all my life. I have not changed. I have done nothing wrong. I never will do anything wrong. I am clean. I am straight.
"If I wanted to make money I would not have given away half of my salary (to charity). I am the only elected mayor to do that."
He said he was aware of the talk on social media sites. He said: "I know of all the tweets. I am just sitting back quietly. "I know what Mike Morey is tweeting. I am keeping a record of it — for any reason that will be necessary." The plot thickens...