‘What is there to hide?’

Leek Post & Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Post & Times re­porter news­[email protected]­p­o­stand­times.co.uk

ANGER has erupted af­ter the press and pub­lic were asked to leave a meet­ing where a re­port was dis­cussed on the find­ings of an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into why a £7,000 coun­cil tax debt was ‘writ­ten off’ for a flat oc­cu­pied by a Moor­lands coun­cil­lor.

In March, the Post & Times re­vealed that Stafford­shire Moor­lands Dis­trict Coun­cil’s rul­ing cabi­net had agreed to write off money owed on Flat 2, Spout Hall, St Ed­ward Street, Leek for the pe­riod be­tween 2010 and 2017.

The flat has been oc­cu­pied by Tory dis­trict coun­cil­lor Gail Lock­ett, right, for sev­eral years.

The debt was shown in the name of James Lock­ett, who was made bank­rupt in June 2017 fol­low­ing a pe­ti­tion by the trustees of Rud­yard Sail­abil­ity.

The coun­cil wrote off the debt be­cause it said there was no prospect of re­cov­er­ing the money owed.

How­ever Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lor Mrs Lock­ett has main­tained her coun­cil tax pay­ments are up to date.

Speak­ing to the Post & Times at the time she said: “I have al­ways paid my coun­cil tax and it is up to date.”

Last Fri­day, a re­port fol­low­ing an in­quiry com­mis­sioned by coun­cil leader Sy­bil Ralphs, was pre­sented to the dis­trict coun­cil’s Stan­dards Board meet­ing.

How­ever the Post & Times and the pub­lic were asked to leave. The Post & Times chal­lenged the con­fi­den­tial­ity of the re­port on the grounds of pub­lic in­ter­est and that the com­mit­tee could chose to go for a lo­cal res­o­lu­tion which could mean the re­port was not made pub­lic.

Stan­dard Board mem­ber, coun­cil­lor Peter Wilkin­son, said that he felt the re­port should not be dis­cussed in con­fi­den­tial, while Coun­cil­lor David Fowler said the mat­ter had been go­ing on a long time and they should be ‘open with the elec­torate.’

An­other board mem­ber, Kevin Jack­son, said: “There is a mass of com­ments on so­cial me­dia and I do not want a lo­cal res­o­lu­tion.” De­spite sup­port from some coun­cil­lors mem­bers voted to go into con­fi­den­tial sit­ting.

Now the leader of the Labour group of the coun­cil, Chris Wood, said that if the re­port is not made pub­lic he will call on the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene.

He said: “It is vi­tal that this is in the open. The coun­cil has to be open and trans­par­ent.

“There have al­ready been two cases of Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lors breach­ing the code of con­duct.

“There seems to be an al­liance of, we can do what we want. Of­fi­cers also seem to pro­tect mem­bers.

“The pub­lic has to have trust in the coun­cil. There is a mas­sive job to do at Stafford­shire Moor­lands Dis­trict Coun­cil to get peo­ple’s con­fi­dence back.

“The pub­lic is rightly con­cerned as it seems peo­ple can break the rules and noth­ing hap­pens. The coun­cil has done ir­repara­ble dam­age by not be­ing open in this case.”

Leader of the Moor­lands Demo­cratic Al­liance, Linda Ma­lyon, said all the re­ports and meet­ings should be in the open.

She said: “The coun­cil is ac­count­able to the peo­ple of the Stafford­shire Moor­lands. What is there to hide?

“It is a dis­grace that the meet­ing was not open.

“We are elected by the peo­ple of the Moor­lands and that’s who we are ac­count­able to. Abuse it and you should re­sign and go. It’s all about trust.”

Moor­lands United Plan­ning Ac­tion Group said the is­sue raised se­ri­ous ques­tions.

A spokesman said: “MUPAG feels it is very much in the pub­lic in­ter­est that the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Coun­cil­lor Lock­ett is made pub­lic, and the fact that the press have been ex­cluded from meet­ings raises yet more se­ri­ous ques­tions.

“When deal­ing with al­leged non pay­ment of coun­cil tax it is im­per­a­tive that SMDC is open and trans­par­ent, so that the pub­lic can make up their own minds. What are SMDC hid­ing?”

Speak­ing to the Post &

Times, Leek res­i­dent Sam Brough, said: “This re­port should be out in the open as it is of pub­lic in­ter­est.”

A spokesman for Stafford­shire Moor­lands Dis­trict Coun­cil said: “The re­port will be con­sid­ered in ac­cor­dance with the leg­is­la­tion and coun­cil poli­cies and that any sub­se­quent hear­ing would be in pub­lic.”

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