Council Chief Executive Says Lessons Will Be Learned Following Leader's Corruption Allegation
THE chief executive of East Cambs District Council has admitted that lessons will have to be learned following its handling of corruption allegations brought against former council leader Brian Ashton. John Hill acknowledged at the annual council meeting
THE chief executive of East Cambs District Council has admitted that lessons will have to be learned following its handling of corruption allegations brought against former council leader Brian Ashton.
John Hill acknowledged at the annual council meeting on Tuesday night that the council would "reflect on their actions and learn lessons for the future" after a full investigation carried out by the Standards Board into allegations of corruption against Cllr Ashton found that there was no case to answer.
Following a formal recognition of the investigation by council members, an emotional Cllr Aston stood before members and officers and said: "To say that this has been a difficult year would be a serious understatement.
"To have false allegations of corruption made against me by a fellow councillor and for an official document to assert that my actions had been a contravention of the rule of law has been an experience of considerable anguish for both my family and myself."
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The allegations of wrong-doing were first levelled at Cllr Ashton back in May 2008 and resulted in council officers scrapping the original Masterplan document at a cost of more than �50,000 and at least another �25,000 for the Standard's Board investigation, all of which will be picked up by the tax payer.
The allegations surrounded an email sent by Cllr Ashton from home to Urbed, the Masterplan consultants, which was stumbled upon following a freedom of information request from fellow councillor, Ian Allen.
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Cllr Allen's complaint alleged that Cllr Ashton's email, sent to Nicholas Falk at Urbed, was asking the consultants to reconsider allocating leisure facilities near to a site in Lisle Lane, which was owned by Cllr Ashton, in favour of housing development.
In the aftermath of the revelations Cllr Ashton stepped down from his role as leader of the council and was referred to the Standards Board for full investigation.
However, in April this year a report from the Standards Board cleared Cllr Ashton of all wrongdoing and acknowledged that the email "was not an attempt to change the content of the draft plan that existed at the time" as a decision had already been made for a change in designation of the land from leisure to housing and Cllr Ashton's remarks were referring to sketches of the site.
Welcoming the decision at the annual meeting council leader Fred Brown, said "I would like to welcome the findings of the Standards Board as Cllr Ashton and his family have suffered much upset in the past year.
"I hope that this council will lend its full support to the councillor so that we can all draw a line under this issue."
Cllr Ian Allen has refused to apologise to Cllr Ashton and still in defiant mood on Tuesday told a packed chamber on Tuesday night: "I am not at all convinced that this item had to come to this meeting as a matter of urgency.
"I happily accept the Standards Board's decision that Cllr Ashton did not break the rules but I do still have concerns about the accountability of the steering group system."
Following protracted debate, councillors agreed that documents (a Section 5 Order) issued by officers accusing Cllr Ashton of a contravention of law would be amended and that a copy of the investigations report would be published on the council's website.