Uncertainty surrounding police probe into county council’s development company

Questions have again been asked by Northumberland County Council over Advance Northumberland.Questions have again been asked by Northumberland County Council over Advance Northumberland.
Questions have again been asked by Northumberland County Council over Advance Northumberland.
Questions remain over an alleged police investigation into Northumberland County Council’s development company.

At January’s meeting of the council’s audit committee, councillors were told they could not be presented with a report by external auditors KPMG into Advance Northumberland.

The council’s executive director of finance, Jan Willis, said the investigation was ongoing and had been for some time – however, Northumbria Police subsequently denied there was any investigation into the company.

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Speaking at the latest meeting of the audit committee on Wednesday, Cllr Peter Jackson questioned the minutes of the previous meeting.

He said: “There is a mention of a response to a question about a KPMG report about Advance Northumberland. I think it’s a matter for a future meeting that we will probably discuss privately.

“I think it is fair to say this committee will hear about the circumstances around this and whether or not there actually is a police investigation and whether that report has been given to the police.

“There is a fear the committee was not told the exact facts. We need clarification in the future about the exact circumstances.”

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Responding, chairman of the audit committee Stephen Watson said he was expecting to see more information on the matter.

He said: “It is an accurate reflection of what was said in that meeting, but your point is well made. That particular issue will be covered in a little bit more detail a little bit later on at a future date. We’re expecting to see more information come forward.”

Both Advance and Northumbria Police have previously stated there was no investigation into the company after the council’s CEO, Daljit Lally, claimed she had “serious whistle-blowing concerns” in an email to all county councillors in August 2020.

The email was sent shortly before she was suspended in a controversial decision that eventually saw Coun Jackson lose a vote of no confidence in his position as council leader.

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Previously, Ms Willis said the KPMG report would be shared with the Northumbria Police before being circulated with councillors.

At the time, she said: “This is a forensic audit report into Advance and legacy issues that predated the creation of Advance and was commissioned from KPMG by my predecessor.

“It was my understanding that it had been shared with the police and could not be made public without their agreement. It would now appear that is not the case.

“The report will now be shared with the police and subject to them formally confirming to NCC that they have no objection, it will be released to the audit committee.”