Opinion: Nottingham Labour council repeatedly investigates and clears itself

You couldn’t make it up!

Nottingham City Council allocated Council Houses to people who shouldn’t have had them and when the Auditor exposed the practise they came to a cosy agreement with the police to let them investigate themselves

Nottingham City Council communications before local elections in 2007 bore a striking resemblance to Labour slogans. The Auditor accepted Council assurances and did not seek a court ruling on the lawfulness. When I discovered a document suggesting Officer involvement in Council and Labour communications the Auditor agreed to let the Council investigate this itself.

Nottingham City Council is employing a consultant before the 2011 elections to help Portfolio Holders cope with government spending cuts. When an e-mail was discovered showing his political involvement with the Labour party campaign the Council said it would investigate and the District Auditor has refused to duplicate their investigation.

In 2009 the Auditor found evidence of houses being allocated improperly and issued a damning Public Interest Report based on the small sample of cases it had examined where houses had been wrongly allocated to friends and family of officers and then wrongly sold under Right to Buy.

I called for a full police investigation and the Labour Leader of the Council said he would welcome one but didn’t support the call for it.

For two years I sought action from the police, who claimed to be conducting a live and ongoing criminal investigation, including making referrals to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and the Force Directorate of Professional Standards. In December 2010 the Council decided that it had explored all possible avenues to reclaim wrongfully allocated houses and that no further action could be taken.

But they hadn’t!

I had discovered that the Police and Council had met in 2006 and agreed that the Police would leave investigation to the Council. Claims of ongoing criminal investigations and referral to the Crown prosecution seem to be unfounded and the matter has now been taken up with the Independent police Complaints Commission.

The Council claims that they have done everything they can and it is time to move on but no one has been held to account; no houses have been reclaimed and the full extent of the wrongdoing has not been determined!

In 2006 the Council employed a Consultant without a proper contract Council communications similar to Labour election material appeared and the matter was referred to the District Auditor. He produced a Public Interest Report after the election agreeing with the legal opinion from a Council Barrister that the material was of borderline lawfulness. He did not seek a court ruling on the lawfulness because the Council had assured him that they had found no evidence of Council Officer involvement in Labour party election material and the amount spent on Council communications was less than £20,000. But that money could have had a major effect on the election outcome giving control of the Council budget of £1bn a year for 4 years to a Labour administration. I have obtained a document appearing to show that officers were involved in both Council and Labour communications. The District Auditor has said that she cannot re-open the audit and has agreed that the Council should investigate this matter itself, to widespread public cynicism. I have called for the Audit Commission to conduct an independent extraordinary audit.

And now it all seems to be happening again! In the run up to the May elections the same consultant used in 2006 has been employed to “provide support to Labour Portfolio Holders to manage budget cuts”. But his tender document offered political support. And an e-mail he sent to the Labour Leader outlines an Executive Away Day agenda including consideration of the latest draft of the manifesto and the campaign shape and position!

The Council said it would investigate and the District Auditor has refused to duplicate their investigation.

How many times will the Council investigate serious allegations and find no evidence of wrongdoing?

How can the public have confidence unless there are genuine independent investigations?

Until that happens there will always be a concern that there has been a whitewash!

Tony Sutton is Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems on Nottingham City Council and stood for election in Nottingham South in 2005 and 2010.

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This entry was posted in Local government and Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Howard Broadwell 9th Apr '12 - 12:14am

    Nottingham City Council is completely out of control. Like many political entities that grew up under the Labour regime since 1997 they are only interested in their grip on power rather than long term policies that benefit everyone. I’m rather puzzled that I’ve been unemployed for nearly 2 years and desperate to work, my wife nets £600/month, yet we have to pay council tax of nearly £150/month. Yet Abu Qatada gets his house paid for and receives significant social security benefits, whereas I only get my national insurance stamp paid for because, presumably, my NI payment record is inferior to his over the years.

    NCC squanders money. Their ridiculous arrow magazine is solely a mouthpiece to trumpet what a great job they are doing….and now in the light of government central funding cuts. They are obsessed with motor vehicles. Drive round Nottingham on a daily basis and see how many NCC vehicles you see. And all the Mercedes vans of Nottingham City Homes just parked up and doing nothing. There’s your council tax dripping away like a leaky tap.

    I could go on with the stories from my wife who is a council employee, but let’s leave it there. Thank you.

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