Campaigning Somerset newspaper ‘The Leveller’ has launched a blistering expose of allegedly shady goings on at South Somerset District Council with allegations of corruption and cover-up. In their January edition they reveal an 8-month investigation into activities of senior employees and claim that there is a culture of ‘secrecy and cover-up’. The Lib Dem administration of South Somerset is caught up in the middle of the allegations which feature in The Leveller with a 7 page exclusive investigation.
A Leveller statement said “SSDC did not move to make anything public for 3 weeks after their internal investigations concluded. So when The Leveller published on 13 December, they rushed a statement out the following day. We now learn that on 16 December, 3 days after our report, more action followed. CEO Jane Portman announced at the SSDC full council meeting that matters had been reported to the Police. This was reported in confidential session so was not immediately apparent.”
The Leveller then contacted the Police who confirmed they logged the complaint on 27 December and say that a full blown Police investigation should be ongoing. “Among the items that the Police will be looking into, no doubt, is this claim in the Investigators’ Report: ‘a number of Environmental Services staff also work as private individuals… the former SSDC Monitoring Officer, had advised her that he had used them and paid them in cash himself and that they were very good workers. She was also informed that the former SSDC S151 Officer and the former Council Leader as well as many other elected members and staff have done the same’.”
Lib Dems on the firing line
The Leveller says “If true, one interpretation would be that public officials had encouraged employees of a public body to evade paying tax.That will also be interesting to the tax authorities, HMRC. As we promised last month, The Leveller® has passed papers in our possession to HMRC. They have acknowledged receipt and confirmed they always investigate allegations of tax evasion. Finally we understand that at the February meeting of SSDC full council the Leader of the Council will face a vote of no confidence. That may or may not be connected to the fact the meeting has been moved back 11 days to 28 February.”
Somerset Labour Secretary Sean Dromgoole commented “Not only did the Liberal Democrat administration waive through the confirmation of “Cash-in-hand” Claire as their new Chief Executive over a weekend, but they did so in spite of the fact there was already an ongoing investigation into her use of council staff for private business. Have we seen one public statement from Lib Dem leadership about this? No. We have seen meetings delayed, and held in camera, as they desperately tried to cover up. Thankfully now, as in Downing Street so in Yeovil, the Police and HMRC are involved, and we can hope that this sorry mess will result in criminal charges. The voters of South Somerset will also have a chance to register their assessment in the elections on May 5th. “
Leader of Sedgemoor Labour Group, Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater Westover) added “With Tories losing public confidence across the country and plummeting in the opinion polls, it seems the Lib Dems – the party responsible for allowing them back into power in 2010, are making no headway in public confidence nationally and faltering locally. Labour will be standing in every seat across Somerset in the May Unitary elections, and we have our best chance ever for offering the people of our county a real alternative. Somerset clearly deserves better than what we’ve got..”
You can find the Leveller article here.