Regional Assemblies - Help needed
Neil Herron has started a funding Complaint to his local Council that will create national chain reaction!
I want to do my bit - my draft letter is below - any comments etc would be much appreciated before I send it.
And if anyone else wants to use any bit of it please do.
The Monitoring Officer
CC Cllr. Christopher Humphries et al
I wish to raise a serious matter which may have profound implications for Cllr. Christopher Humphries and for Kennet Council. I am therefore bringing this to their attention as well as to the attention of other interested parties. As well as being Leader of Kennet Council Cllr. Christopher Humphries is also a Member of the SWRA and this is where my concern is.
My concern, and that of many others, is about what appears to be some very serious misuses of public money. From discussions with the District Auditor and the Senior Policy Advisor at the Standards Board of England and Wales, I understand that I first need to raise the matters with you for investigation.
However, because of the seriousness of the allegations and the implications for other local authorities, I will also be copying in a number of other interested parties in on this correspondence. I also believe that the matter is so serious that it may warrant a Police investigation with a view to prosecutions.
Therefore, I hope that you will treat and investigate the matter thoroughly and with the view that this is simply the beginning of a process that will also be replicated in other authority areas and with other regional assemblies across the country.
There are a number of questions that I wish answered before moving on to the complaint, and the answers will have an obvious bearing on the next stages of the complaint and investigation procedures by outside bodies:
1. Can you confirm that Kennet Council is aware that the South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) is an ‘unincorporated association’ and thereby has no legal personality?
2. Can you please provide details of all the amounts paid by Kennet Council to SWRA since its inception?
3. Can you please provide details of all the KennetCouncil’s representatives of SWRA over the period this money was paid and whether they were present at council meetings when this payment, the ‘voluntary subscription,’ was agreed in the budget?
4. Can you confirm that at all times the Members’ Interest Book had up to date details of membership of SWRA. If not, can you advise as to when and where the breaches were noted and the date they were corrected?
5. Had the members indicated that they had a pecuniary or prejudicial interest in SWRA? If not, had you, as the Monitoring Officer, advised them otherwise?
6. Were they ever advised by yourself as Monitoring Officer, or any other official of the Local Authority that membership of an ‘unincorporated association’ whose members are ‘jointly and severally’ liable may have personal financial consequences?
7. SWRA is not recognised as an employer under Section 122 of the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
— Are you aware of this?
— Did you advise Kennet Council’s SWRA members of this?
— Did you advise them that as they were the ‘legal personality’ of SWRA, and as such they could face a potential personal liability for those contracts and pensions / redundancies should there ever be a shortfall in the funding stream?
— Are you aware of any Local Authority underwriting the SWRA / SWRA’s contacts of employment for their permanent members of staff? If so, which authority?
10. Can you please provide a copy of the Strategy promoting the well being of the Kennet Council and details of the consultations, which were undertaken detailing how the decision was arrived at that membership of SWRA would be beneficial to the Council Area?
What is the form that the ‘consultation process’ takes?
The complaint which I will initially ask you to respond to, which will require further investigation by outside bodies, dependent on your response is as follows:-
I wish to make a formal complaint, which I will be copying initially to Michelle Witton, Senior Policy Advisor at the Standards Board of England and Wales, because of the potential ‘knock-on’ implications for other local authority councillors and possible legal action.
The complaint is as follows:-
1. I believe that there have been breaches of Section 137 and 143 of the Local Government Act 1972 and Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000.
The SWRA cannot be seen to be acting always in the interests of all of the local authority areas in the region, and often decisions or strategies will be to the detriment of Kennet.
Therefore if SWRA is beneficial to another area which compromises Kennet then Sections 137 / 143 and Section 2 cannot hold true.
Can you clarify if this is the case?
Can you detail your monitoring procedure intended to prevent such breaches?
If the promotion or improvement of economic, social or environmental well-being of the local authority area can be potentially compromised then the payment of the ‘voluntary subscriptions’ cannot be authorised.
2. Relates to the Code of Conduct of councillors.
From Part 2.8 (1) of The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (England) Order 2001,
“A member must regard himself as having a personal interest in any matter if the matter relates to an interest in respect of which notification must be given in paragraph 14 and 15 below, or if a decision upon it might reasonably be regarded as affecting to a greater extent than other council tax payers, ratepayers or inhabitants of the authority’s area, the well-being or financial position of himself, a relative or a friend …”
It therefore appears that Kennet Council’s Members of SWRA have recorded in the Members’ Interest Book the fact that they are only ‘members’ of the organisations (you will be confirming whether they have all done this…question 4 above). They appear not to have registered a ‘pecuniary’ or ‘prejudicial’ interest.
Can you confirm this?
The members’ financial interest arises because as ‘unincorporated association’ it is the members of SWRA who are ‘jointly and severally’ liable.
Therefore, if, as it appears, SWRA is not registered as an employer under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 then it is the members of SWRA who have the legal responsibility for contracts entered into by that body.
The liability of the contracts of employment amounts to many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Therefore, if Local Authorities ceased to pay ‘voluntary subscriptions’ or there was a change of government whereby these bodies were abolished (or both) the liabilities of the members would become immediate and apparent.
Therefore, for the members of SWRA, sitting as councillors and approving Kennet’s budget and voluntary subscriptions there is a serious breach of Local Government Act 1972 Section 94 (1) as well as breaches of the Members Code of Conduct.
Section 94 (1) states,
“Subject to the provisions of section 97 below, if a member of a local authority has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any contract, proposed contract or other matter, and is present at a meeting of the local authority at which the contract or other matter is the subject of consideration, he shall at the meeting and as soon as practicable after its commencement disclose the fact and shall not take part in the consideration or discussion of the contract or other matter or vote on any question with respect to it.”
(The disability could not be removed by Section 97 (5) of the same Act because the ‘influence’ of the leader and deputy leader of the ruling group could hardly be classed as ‘insignificant').
Therefore, under Section 94 (2) of the Local Government Act 1972 it appears that an offence has been committed.
I wish you also to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation.
I trust that you will treat this complaint with the seriousness that it merits and I will receive a full and thorough response addressing all of the points raised in order for the complaint to be taken to the next stage of proceedings.