(Report of Stuart Evans, Legal Director, Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP)
Mr Stuart Evans, Legal Director of Anthony Collins Solicitors presented his Investigation Report in relation to the disposal of public open space land at Leyfields and Netherstowe, Lichfield and summarised the complaints, the legal position, and his findings and recommendations as follows:-
(1) To ensure best consideration in all future contracts that reference should be made where time has elapsed to the need for a fresh valuation report being obtained.
(2) To have in place a check list for the disposal of land. It is noted that there is now a new draft disposal of land and property assets policy in place and paragraph 5 specifically deals with open space land.
(3) To have a checklist for land disposal that provides an audit trail of decision making and actions that are required to be taken.
(4) To put in place an appropriate document signing process and sealing system that provides evidential proof that contracts have been appropriately signed and sealed where required and that signing of all procurement documentation should be supervised by a legal officer/monitoring officer.
(5) To review whether there is a need for a decision review trigger to be written into the Constitution when there is either a period of time between Cabinet sign-off and the implementation of that decision or a change in Cabinet membership. This would deal with the issue where, for example, there has been a change in land value or central government policy on a particular matter.
(6) Relevant professional input into the signing off of all reports and all decisions; that all Cabinet reports are signed off by the Section 151 Officer and Monitoring Officer.
(7) Training is provided to Members and Officers setting out the importance of public consultation in such disposals and the statutory obligations to consult as detailed in the Local Government Act.
(8) The decision of the 4 September 2018 should not be relied upon to authorise the sale of the two areas of open space land to Bromford Housing Association.
If the sale is now to take place it is
recommended that a fresh process is
commenced with district valuation reports and appropriate notices in the press and proper consultation prior to a decision being made by Cabinet to sell the open space land if it is considered this is the appropriate way forward.
Ms Christie Tims (Head of Governance & Performance/Monitoring Officer) advised that the report had been brought to committee as soon as practicable and further discussions are planned to deal with the findings and recommendations.
A number of questions were raised including whether the officers accepted the recommendations and the Chief Executive explained that the issues required further, more-detailed work. However, in principle the recommendations were accepted. Comments that the very basic things did not happen in ignorance of the 1972 Local Government Act and the lack of consultation was agreed by the committee to be very disappointing. Some Members wanted more political answers and hoped to get them at some point in the future.
In response to a question from Councillor Norman that there were still details on who had done what to be shared, Diane Tilley (Chief Executive) advised the committee that she would need to understand the value and purpose of naming individuals as this would not aid the ability to learn lessons from the episode and, as she had publicly stated before, none of the officers involved were any longer working for the council. She said she needed to protect the workforce and there was an exercise in learning for the council here. She confirmed that she accepted all the findings and recommendations in the Investigation Report in principle but said more detailed discussions were now required for their implementation. Councillor Pullen (Leader of the Council) also confirmed he accepted all the findings and recommendations and said the practical implications now needed to be looked at.
Ms Tilley said a report was due to come forward to Cabinet in May regarding the withdrawal of the deal to dispose of the land and further reports were due in June in respect of the implementation of the recommendations and July to consider the Disposal Policy.
RESOLVED: The Committee welcomed the report and looked forward to
future updates regarding the lessons learnt.