‘What I said was clumsy, but torrent of abuse that followed left me shattered’

A county councillor who resigned over “totally inappropriate” remarks about special educational needs provision has spoken for the first time about the impact the furore has had on his personal, professional and political life.

Cllr Simon Webb, who said that Educational Health Care Plans (EHCP) had become the “in thing", said he was left “shattered” by the torrent of abuse the scandal created.

Councillor Simon Webb

The comments received widespread condemnation after appearing on social media site TikTok, with model and TV presenter Christine McGuinness, who has three children with autism, expressing her outrage.

He said the affair had caused “massive” upset to his family and shaken his confidence.

In his first interview since the controversy erupted three months ago, Maidstone rural west member Cllr Webb revealed he was stepping down at the 2025 Kent County Council (KCC) elections as a result.

Speaking exclusively to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Webb said his remarks about EHCPs were prompted by statistics which showed Kent has one fifth more recipients than other parts of the country.

Cllr Webb, who is 70 next year, spent more than 45 years as a teacher, head teacher and later the most senior adviser for primary schools in Kent, before retiring in 2021 from his last role – turning round a failing academy trust in Essex.

The comments were made during a discussion over SEN provision. Stock image
The comments were made during a discussion over SEN provision. Stock image

His offending remark was made at a KCC scrutiny sub-committee meeting in March but did not surface until late May. Mr Webb resigned from the panel a few days later.

He said: “In the wider context of the meeting, I was asking who the gatekeepers of the EHCPs were and how scrutiny was enforced.

“And the reason why I was asking the question is because Kent has 20% more EHCPs than any other equivalent county.

“In my view that 20% needs full, proper analysis and challenging questions need to be asked of officers.

“I fully accept that the majority of children who are on EHCPs need them but I was questioning the motives of a small minority of parents.

“This committee was, after all, a scrutiny committee. I have spoken to heads around the county who share that view, too.”

Kent County Council's offices
Kent County Council's offices

Cllr Webb, who lives in Hunton, near Maidstone, added: “What I said about the EHCPs being the ‘in thing’ was inappropriate. It was a clumsy misrepresentation of what I meant to say.

“There’s a small number of parents who strongly believe that their children should have an EHCP when the professionals in the schools do not agree with them.

"My whole career was built around securing a positive impact in helping all children that is what motivated me and always will.”

It took about several weeks for the comments to emerge, initially via TikTok, and he admits he was unprepared for the amount of backlash he received.

He added: “I am totally convinced the whole reporting on social media was politically motivated by the opposition at KCC. Certainly, the opposition lost no time in exploiting it and you can’t blame them. That’s politics.

“I’ve always been regarded as a bit of a maverick because I say it how it is. I’m pretty resilient. But I wasn’t prepared for the level of abuse that rained down on me.

Christine McGuinness joined the outrage. Picture: BBC
Christine McGuinness joined the outrage. Picture: BBC

“My family did not get it directly but they could see how it affected me. They were massively upset, of course. It was shattering.”

Cllr Webb, who is also a Maidstone Borough Councillor, said he was about to quit as “the right thing to do”.

He revealed: “I debated whether I should resign from KCC, there and then. I thought that I had breached the code of conduct and it would be the right thing to do.

“But I took advice and I was assured that I hadn’t breached the code. I was told that I was a councillor expressing an opinion in a debate.

“The whole issue has affected me and my family considerably. My confidence has been shaken. Having received online abuse, castigation and degrading comments, my confidence in speaking in public has been severely dented.

Cllr Simon Webb
Cllr Simon Webb

“It’s affected my relationships with members of the Conservative group at KCC and the wider party.

“My daughters said that I should be enjoying my retirement years playing golf instead of having so much pressure. I have always enjoyed the cut and thrust of reasoned arguments.”

Although he does not name names, Cllr Webb added: “I was disappointed at the lack of support I received from the executive at KCC.

“My family were worried about me and told me to quit politics and enjoy my retirement but the problem with that is I am not a quitter and I feel I have done a good job as a county councillor for the residents.

“But I won’t be standing again at KCC or at Maidstone Borough Council. I’m 70 next year and my family and the golf course beckons.”

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