Fresh friction over Advance Northumberland

There has been fresh friction over Advance Northumberland.There has been fresh friction over Advance Northumberland.
There has been fresh friction over Advance Northumberland.
There has been fresh friction at the top of Northumberland County Council over regeneration company Advance Northumberland.

The wholly council-owned regeneration company was meant to represent a fresh start after governance and spending concerns, including serious allegations of wrongdoing, at predecessor Arch, under the previous Labour administration.

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At the time, Advance’s managing director Ken Dunbar said he was ‘surprised’ to see a reference to ‘significant concerns’ about the ‘well-run’ company, but pledged to ‘thoroughly investigate if any significant allegations are brought to our attention’.

Northumberland County Council chief executive Daljit LallyNorthumberland County Council chief executive Daljit Lally
Northumberland County Council chief executive Daljit Lally

A referral was also made to Northumbria Police, but a force spokesman confirmed in October 2020 that it was ‘not investigating any matters in relation to Advance’.

At the Friday, February 5, meeting of the council’s corporate services committee, Mrs Lally was due to give a presentation to update the committee on the operations of Advance Northumberland. It was listed on the agenda to take place in private, without the press and public.

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However, at the start of the public meeting, the chairman, Cllr David Bawn, announced that the item had been withdrawn by Mrs Lally, as she had wanted councillors who were Advance board members to be excluded, ‘which I didn’t agree with’.

Cllr David BawnCllr David Bawn
Cllr David Bawn

Labour’s Cllr Lynne Grimshaw said she was ‘absolutely disgusted’ as the committee needed to know what was going on and excluding board members was ‘a perfectly reasonable request, considering the implications’.

Referring to a private pre-meeting, she added: “Members of this committee need to know that it was really railroaded, I’m sorry to have to say that, I think it’s highly political.”

But Cllr John Beynon, a Conservative, said: “I completely disagree. We are trying to get to the truth and having the members who are on the board of Advance there will help us get there.

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“The public wants the truth and the majority of councillors want the truth, and the only way you can get there is having everyone there to answer questions. I think it’s totally unacceptable what is happening this morning.”

Cllr Ian Swithenbank, a Labour councillor on the Advance board, pointed out that board members and councillors not involved were each only getting half of the story, adding: “At some point, there has to be some sort of conversation so everyone knows what’s going on.”

Mrs Lally said: “Obviously I don’t want to discuss in open session the reasons and discussion which took place in the pre-meeting, I’ll just make that point.”

She also told the committee that a private meeting had taken place on Friday, January 29, with senior council staff and Advance board members following a confidential report which went to the audit committee on Wednesday, January 27, adding that due process had been followed and she was acting in her role of shareholder representative.

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“There is also the shareholder assurance meeting that happens regularly,” she added. “There have been two in the last week and there’s been a detailed discussion in there about issues of governance, finance, risk and concern, so I do think it’s a bit unfortunate that comments are being made that seem to imply that there are any attempts to withhold information from people who need to know at this point.”

Mrs Lally claimed that the item was withdrawn as Cllr Bawn would not agree to the confidentiality of the report, sparking him to accuse the chief executive of being ‘entirely inappropriate’ by ‘trying to paint an image in public session’.

“The true position is you insisted you would not make a presentation if any member of the board of Advance was present or able to hear it, which I said was unacceptable,” he added. Mrs Lally hit back to say that Cllr Bawn was ‘misrepresenting the discussion’.

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