Councillors demand disclosure after expenses probe fails to expose full extent of wrongdoing
COUNCILLORS demanded full disclosure of a report into alleged mispayments of expenses at Stroud District Council after it was revealed key details would not be made public. A cross-party panel of councillors were selected to launch an inquiry into allowances and the council’s own procedures for processing claims at the start of the year – the findings of which were unveiled at a full council meeting at Ebley Mill last night, Thursday, September 20.
But a heated debate erupted after it was announced the notes of inquiry meetings would not be published for data protection reasons and due to the risk of defamatory discussions coming to light.
Inquiry chairman Cllr John Hudson, who launched the investigation in January, came under fire from colleagues for refusing to divulge the full contents of the report, which is thought to centre on claims made by an individual councillor as far back as 2008.
Key to the inquiry - conducted behind closed doors at Ebley Mill over five weeks in July and August - was an internal audit report into members’ allowances for 2008/09, which found invalid claims totalling some £1,347.
A total of five recommendations were drawn up by the panel to ensure future discrepancies cannot happen, including implementing the raft of proposed changes identified in the original audit.
Cllr Steve Lydon (Lab, The Stanleys) led calls for the information to be released, telling members he would ask for disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and ‘keep asking.’ "It is important that the proceedings, the evidence and the statements be placed in the public domain," he told the chamber.
"If we do not release it now, someone else will."
His views were echoed by Cllr David Drew (Lab, Farmhill & Paganhill) and Cllr Paul Denney (Lab, Cam West), who warned members not to bury their heads in the sand over the issue.
The outcome even drew criticism from inquiry panellists Cllr Mattie Ross (Lab, Stonehouse), who said the findings ‘hadn’t been open enough’ and Cllr Roger Sanders (Lab, Uplands) who added that the recommendations resulting from the investigation were ‘very mild.’ The inquiry’s recommendations were eventually adopted and Cllr Lydon was given an assurance that he would receive a full legal explanation as to why certain findings were not released.