Concern over Arch complaints ‘not being investigated’

Northumberland  County Council'County Hall at Morpeth
Northumberland County Council'County Hall at Morpeth

Two Labour councillors in Northumberland are concerned about what they see as a lack of action following serious complaints made a year ago.

The pair, who approached the auditor on the condition of anonymity under the council’s whistle-blowing procedure, raised concerns last July about potential unlawful actions relating to council-owned company Arch and the removal of the core strategy.

They say that these issues have not been investigated and reported on by the council’s internal auditor, despite providing ‘hours of testimony and physical documentation’.

At the same time, a number of audit reports have been produced and made public regarding financial irregularities at Arch, which is being replaced by a new company. Another report is expected to go before the audit committee later this month.

However, a council spokesman has said that the issues were ‘investigated at length’ and ‘were found to be unsubstantiated and without basis’.

A Labour spokesman said: “It is doubly concerning that the auditor has not reported on the allegations tabled especially as they involved some matters they were already allegedly investigating and more allegations related to removal of the core strategy, which is subject to calls for an independent inquiry by MPs, private companies and a raft of councillors and former councillors in Northumberland.”

These calls for an independent inquiry were sparked by serious allegations made by developer Lugano in relation to its Dissington Garden Village proposal, near Ponteland. The company is threatening legal action against the council, which has refuted the claims.

The Labour spokesman added that the auditor should ‘reveal its outcomes to public if the so-called transparent council tag for Northumberland is not going to be revealed as a sham’.

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “A number of issues were raised with internal audit and investigated at length.

“This involved detailed interviews with the elected members concerned, review of documentation submitted by these members, follow-up of any available evidence both within and external to the county council, and consultation with the county council’s monitoring officer.

“Several of the matters raised related to issues not within the control of the county council. The remainder of the complaints were found to be unsubstantiated and without basis.

“Those making the complaints have already received a detailed response from the council regarding their concerns.”

By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service