Accusations made at Guildford Borough Council meeting over report
Serious accusations were made by a former leader of the Council at a Guildford Borough Council meeting of the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee held on 19th November 2020.
Things got heated when the former leader of the Council, Cllr Paul Spooner spoke on agenda item 04 (2) – Summary of Internal Audit Reports – App 2 – KPMG Burchatts Farm Barn Internal Audit Review (DRAFT)” Skip to that segment of the meeting recording here.
Cllr Spooner was very critical that Council Officers, paid Civil Servants and funded by Council Taxpayers, were acting politically and were trying to damage his party, the Conservative party. Skip to the relevant segment of Cllr Spooner’s address to the Committee here.
Transcript of Cllr Spooner’s address:
“I do have significant issues with the way this has been handled.
Firstly, as the previous leader of the council, the first I heard about this was when I saw it coming through and saw The Dragon article, and I can’t possibly understand, assuming the article in the press is correct, that someone who is not a member of the Executive was able to commission KPMG and the public cost involved. I assume it went through due process and I would like to understand, and perhaps we should audit the process for that decision making in its own right.
I cannot understand except that this is purely political, and officers aren’t supposed to be that political, why we are having two bites at the cherry here. This is coming forward in a state that is clearly not factually correct, it is a draft. And I cannot understand in what I would describe as an early draft, why we are bringing it to this committee. I can understand it going through internal discussion and I certainly think, all of us, I am sure would agree, from an open and transparent perspective that the final report should come forward or indeed in an advance draft. It is in my opinion, fundamentally flawed.
I cannot understand why Executive or former Executive Members were not consulted on this. Cllr Redpath has just said she harassed KPMG and thanked them. They certainly did not harass me as they did not call me in any way or form. And as former leader that is ridiculous.
And looking at the list that they did interview, they are the campaigners who were involved in trying to stop what was, at the time, not an asset of community value. As it happens I was very uncomfortable and I think I stated it publicly about the way this was handled and I am extremely concerned about the errors, and it is a significant error because councillors have to trust officer input in relation to inaccurate financial information that would have had a significant impact on this decision-making process. And I think we need to very seriously look, and heads, I am afraid, should roll in relation to councillors expected to make objective decisions if the information presented to them is factually inaccurate. That concerns me greatly.
There were comments about councillors not being able to provide documentation from the Executive or the property review group. Are we talking about the current executive? Are we talking about the previous executive? What exactly has been reviewed here?
The decision that was taken was obviously taken under the new administration, post May 2019 and was actually the same decision that was being presented as a recommendation to the previous administration. And yet if I look at the way this is being played in the press and the way in which it is being played politically, you would think that the Tories, my party, have behaved in some inappropriate way.
Well, the Officers that were providing the information and evidence to the current administration, are the same officers that were providing the information to the previous administration, erroneous as it would appear to be.
I am absolutely shocked that this has gone as far as it has without it coming anywhere near myself or other previous executive members.
I understand that Cllr Manning was made aware late on in the day. He didn’t make me aware but he was at least made aware. Whereas I certainly haven’t been made aware at all.
The completeness of meeting records of asset management strategy framework, the timeline is wrong, it is factually inaccurate. There is no reference to the Executive Management Liaison Group. I am shocked at the Property Management Group did not have better records which I think is very unfortunate from when you are trying to run and understand a compliance audit.
So this is a very, very sorry state of affairs and reflects very poorly, not just on this administration or the previous administration, but reflects very poorly on this council.
And I do think we need to think very seriously, not just about the recommendations, but actually about the process and the way this has been handled, in my opinion deliberately political, and that is really, really sad that officers have behaved so politically, trying to damage my party.”
The Residents Network wonders if the final report will ever see the light of day, or will it be hidden from public view under exemption rules.