Calls for Mansfield councillor to quit over £340,000 cash row

CONTROVERSY over Mansfield District Council’s management of cash is growing after the authority was forced to pay back £340,000 plus interest to a developer.

Labour members were last night planning to blame deputy mayor Roger Sutcliffe over the saga of the unspent cash and ask him to resign.

Chad first reported in July how the money was at risk of being returned to Bloor Homes because the authority missed a legal deadline to spend it on community projects.

This week it emerged the cash has now been paid back to the company with interest, despite negotiations.

Derbyshire-based Bloor Homes has refused to comment on what it now plans to do with the money.

The firm was also legally entitled to £44,541 interest from the council on the sum.

Bev Smith, the council’s corporate director, said negotiations with Bloor had been open and amicable, but confirmed: “The contract itself dictated we’d have to give it back and it has been paid with interest accrued.”

Senior officers at the council have already apologised and insist public funds are ‘well managed’ at the authority.

An internal investigation, expected to be complete in two to three weeks, is also still running.

And on Monday Labour group leader Martin Lee said he would use a full council meeting taking place as this week’s Chad went to press to blame independent Coun Sutcliffe, deputy mayor and portfolio holder for resources, for the affair.

“This was a catastrophic failure on the part of the council to utilise much-needed funds” said Coun Lee.

“This is about accountability and responsibility.

“Under the constitution the portfolio holder for resources is fully responsible for financial decision-making and internal and external auditing.

“This error happened on his watch and the buck stops with him.”

Ahead of the meeting Coun Sutcliffe told Chad he rejected the call.

“My response is quite emphatic; I will not be resigning,” he said.

He added he believed the call was misdirected and Mr Lee was misinterpreting the council’s constitution.

“Section 106 money is not an executive function,” he said.

“At the moment this is also subject to an internal investigation which is not yet complete.

“The whole matter needs to be investigated to determine how or when any action should take place.”

The Local Government Ombudsman’s office is already considering launching an investigation into the case following a letter of complaint from Mansfield MP Sir Alan Meale.

Said Sir Alan this week: “The council has got to completely come clean on how this occurred, who is responsible and what’s being done to ensure it does not happen again.”

Bloor originally gave the council the £340,000 in 2004 as part of a ‘section 106’ legal agreement linked to planning permission for new homes at Paddock Close in Mansfield.

It was earmarked to be spent on a list of community improvements, including work at Quarry Lane Nature Reserve.

But a 2007 council clerical error meant the money was given an incorrect spending deadline of August this year instead of 2009.

Chad asked Bloor Homes to provide a statement on what it now intended to do with the cash, but received no response.

Mansfield mayor Tony Egginton, who has also faced criticism over the council’s failure to spot the problem sooner, had been involved in talks with the developer.

“The issue is not for Coun Sutcliffe. It’s an officer function,” he said.

“This (Coun Lee’s statement) is a personal damning. The people of Mansfield are extremely fortunate to have people like Roger in his role to steer us from being a weak authority to a strong authority.”

The council is also holding a second, separate, investigation into why it failed to collect hundreds of thousands of pounds owed to it following a group housing repair scheme, also referred to watchdogs by Mr Meale.

For a report of last night’s full council meeting see next Wednesday’s edition of Chad, or visit www.chad.co.uk.