Wisbech councillor fights for political survival after decision taken to refer expenses claim issues to conduct hearing
- Credit: Archant
Wisbech councillor Simon King is fighting for his political career after a decision was taken to refer his expenses claim to a conduct committee made up of mainly Conservative Party colleagues.
A private meeting of independent conduct committee members and chairman Councillor Sam Hoy was held at the Boathouse, Wisbech, earlier today. They sifted the evidence compiled by Fenland Council monitoring officer Carol Pilson and the view was that the complaints are so serious only a full blown conduct committee can rule on them.
Ms Pilson has ruled herself out of involvement in the case after her initial findings included reporting the matter to Cambridgeshire Police, who decided not to pursue it.
The case is now being dealt with by the monitoring team from Peterborough City Council with whom Fenland now share some services.
Fenland Hall officials are thought to be both surprised and alarmed by the welter of evidence compiled against Cllr King.
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They have trawled back through eight years of expenses claims which have posed question marks over journeys allegedly not undertaken on council business but claimed for by Cllr King.
These are said to have included meetings held outside of the area and also visits to local councils where evidence of attendance is being questioned.
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Ironically Cllr King will find himself in a critical position tonight (Thu) having been allowed back into the Tory group on Fenland once police dropped their interest in the case. His vote could be crucial as votes are cast among the 34 strong ruling Tory group about who they favour as their new leader.
Cllr King was a cabinet member until his suspension and although he has not been offered back his portfolio responsibilities, he has been hopeful that if Councillor Chris Seaton wins the vote his position may be restored.
It is thought unlikely Cllr Seaton’s rival for the leadership Councillor Chris Boden – who has served on the conduct committee – would countenance an early return.
Supporters of Cllr Boden believe they have around 15 other councillors in favour of his candidature and the same numbers are thought to be supporters of Cllr Seaton.
That would leave a handful holding the balance whose votes would determine the outcome following the resignation of council leader John Clark.
Cllr Clark resigned following the de-selection of two cabinet members, Will Sutton and Michelle Tanfield, although a third has been de-selected since – Councillor Mike Cornwell who besides being a cabinet member is also the Tory group whip.
I understand remarks made by Cllr Sutton to the chairman of the North East Cambs Conservative Association, Cllr Kay Mayor, are being put in a complaint that could lead to an internal Tory Party probe. It followed a heated meeting of the association when Cllr Sutton failed to win re-selection for his Christchurch seat.
Ironically tonight’s meeting – to be held at 6pm at Fenland Hall – will be without Cllr Clark, who is on holiday although he will have been able to nominate someone to express his vote.
Cllr Sutton, de facto deputy leader, could find himself with a casting vote if the result is split – a supreme irony given the association’s decision to de-select him.
Cllr King re-paid £1,511.10 to Fenland Council on November 30 which he says is the “entire” amount of the alleged over payment; he admitted that some of his claims may have been for longer journeys than the shortest route but he argued that it wasn’t always possible to drive by the shortest route.
He said: “I am extremely sorry that this matter has escalated to the extent that it has become necessary for a formal complaint to be raised against me and the significant amount of officers’ time this matter has taken up so far.
“I accept that some of the claims may have been outside the officers’ interpretation of the terms of the members allowance scheme policy.”
But he did not accept “that mileage claims are properly limited to the shortest route in every case, for the following reasons - neither the policy or claim form state that the route must be the shortest route.
“It is notable that Fenland District Council has not made any request to me for repayment of any sums overpaid and has proceeded with the issue of a complaint,” he added.
He had repaid the amount of the alleged overpayment “to avoid any impression that I was benefitting improperly from FDC”.
He said: “I am completely innocent and my solicitors and I are confident I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Freedom of Information requests have been submitted today by this newspaper to both Fenland Council and to Cambridgeshire County Council requesting copies of all expenses claims filed by Cllr King.