• Rules checked after Graham Brown row

    25th September 2013 | News | Claire
  • INDEPENDENT auditors have scrutinised East Devon District Council’s governance procedures following concerns about the integrity of a former councillor.

    Councillors on the Audit and Governance Committee called for the audit following concerns about whether there was a conflict of interest between former councillor Graham Brown’s role on the council and his professional work as a planning consultant.

    As previously reported by the Echo, police are investigating whether the former Feniton and Buckerell ward member may have committed a criminal offence after being caught on camera boasting that he could secure planning permission in his role as a consultant.

    But it is not illegal for councillors to work as paid consultants.

    The audit looked at the procedures and checks in place at the council to make sure they are robust enough so if there ever were any perceived conflicts of interest, whatever they may be, they would be identified. The audit was carried out by the South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) as part of its annual audit and completed in July.

    The report is confidential but findings and any recommendations for improvements will be reported back to the committee. Auditors were satisfied with the council’s governance procedures.

    An extract from the report states: “This review included a review of councillors’ declared interests and of the complaints procedures.

    “Internal Audit can confirm the council holds a complete set of councillors’ declared interests; it can demonstrate exempt and sensitive information is well managed; and a robust complaints procedure is in operation.”

    District councillor Claire Wright, said: “It’s positive that the council asked for the audit but I’d now like to know the scope of the review and the terms of reference the auditors worked to, and if the report is going to be made public, and if not, why not.”

    Ian McKintosh, chairman of the East Devon Alliance campaign group, who previously criticised the length of time it is taking the police to investigate Cllr Brown, added: “The alliance has always been extremely concerned that valuable time was lost at the outset when the matter was referred to Action Fraud, whether by ignorance, negligence or otherwise, when it should never have been.”

    Meanwhile, the council has decided not to launch its own investigation until police enquiries conclude.

    A council spokesman said: “The council’s annual Governance Statement describes the processes and controls that are in place to govern the council. “As its name implies, this annual statement is reviewed each year and is amended to reflect any current or recent issues that might affect – or could be perceived to affect – the proper running of the council’s business.

    “The latest Statement covers the period April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.“In light of the widespread publicity about the alleged activities of a former member of the council, the council’s Audit and Governance Committee deemed it appropriate to include details in the statement to reflect the fact that our processes and controls with regard to councillors are suitably robust.

    “To satisfy the council that it does indeed have the right checks and balances in place to be able to demonstrate best practice, SWAP was tasked with including an independent review of these within its latest audits.”