To receive any questions relating to items on the agenda from members of the public and replies thereto.
Note: A maximum of 30 minutes is allowed for this item.
Mr Paul Elstone asked questions relating to Agenda Item 7 – 3 Rivers – Lessons Learned.
His questions were all directed to the Chairman.
This administration promised openness, transparency and public engagement in decision making. Could it be explained in detail why 5 documents associated with the 3 Rivers Lessons Learned agenda item were being kept secret from the public?
The integrity of various audits and reports on 3 Rivers were being challenged by previous Council Leaders who had detailed knowledge.
Would the full circumstances of those integrity issues be fully investigated by this committee?
Information is becoming increasingly available regarding the Council lending to 3 Rivers which was strongly believed showed what could only be classed as repeat reckless lending being fully promoted by Council Officers and then agreed by this Council.
Would this Committee fully investigate and then seek independent legal advice on this position?
A former senior Councillor has called the 3 Rivers Lessons Learned Enquiry an officer orchestrated sham.
How, therefore, could the Mid Devon public have any confidence at all with the outcome?
It had become clear that 3 Rivers was in a desperate financial situation in October 2022, that events had become massively worse at the Cabinet Meeting of the 31st January 2023, that it took the then Council Leader despite being incapacitated to call a halt. The Fully Independent Cabinet then further intervened to prevent further 3 Rivers investment. Despite this the Scrutiny Committee failed to undertake their legally defined duties, also, the Audit Committee. Would this Committee fully investigate the full reasons as to why?
As the questions had not been provided in advance, Mr Elstone was told that written answers would be provided.
Mr Nick Quinn had sent in questions and asked for the Chairman to read them out:
His questions related to Agenda Item 7: 3 Rivers, Lessons Learned, Session 1
With this new Council’s aims of inclusion, openness and transparency in mind:
Q1: Please would you tell me who prepared the, uncredited, “Draft Terms of
Reference” document, shown on pages 23 and 24 of your papers?
A1: This was prepared by the Chief Executive with the approval of the Chair of Scrutiny Committee.
Q2: Please would you tell me who prepared the, similarly uncredited, “3 Rivers -
Corporate Risk Management” document, shown on pages 25 to 27 of your
A2: This was prepared by the Council’s Corporate Performance and Improvement Manager.
Q3: The second paragraph of the “Draft Terms of Reference” document,
stated that “Numerous internal and external reports had been commissioned
over the years, at considerable cost to the Council…. exploring both aspects
of governance and finance”. Had copies of each of these reports been
provided to every Member of Scrutiny Committee, for them to read and digest
as part of this review process?
A3: Yes, external legal and financial advice received from Anthony Collins Solicitors and Bishop Fleming had been shared.
Q4: After the Agenda and papers for this meeting had been published, a
number of “Restricted Documents” had been added to the electronic copy of
the agenda shown on the Council Website. These papers had been
published late and the public had no idea what they were, or what they were
about. Please would you give me the titles of each of these additional papers
and the reasons why each was published late?
A4: These part 2 documents were sent out as a complete set as soon as they were all received, so this was the earliest we could make them available. The responses were from four ex councillors who were asked to consider the seven areas identified in the Terms of Reference document.
Mr Goff Welchman asked three questions:
Q1: He wished to enquire why this committee was only investigating the 3 Rivers Development Company back to 2018, and did not wish to apportion blame? Was the committee not aware, that under recent legislation changes, any directors found to be negligent could be prosecuted and pursued for company losses, even to the extent of losing their homes, and any other assets?
Response to question 1:
As is a matter of public record, all governance matters and financial transactions had been audited multiple times by internal and external companies. While it was therefore accepted that there may be lessons to be learnt from how the Council managed its relationship with the company on a number of issues, there was no suggestion of any Director negligence as had been referred to.
Q2: Were any Council Officers given legal advice at the outset of 3 Rivers Development Company Ltd that they should not be a Director of 3RDL whilst also having a controlling financial position on the Council and therefore responsible for signing off loans to 3 RDL?
Q3: With regard to apportioning blame, how would anyone like it if their house was burgled and the Police said that they could not investigate it due to cost?
As questions 2 and 3 had not been provided in advance, Mr Welchman was told that written answers would be provided. The Chairman commented that the Council had chosen to investigate this matter in order to be transparent. The Deputy Chief Executive (S151) commented that advice on set up was taken at the outset. Advice on Governance arrangements had been taken from Bevan Brittan Solicitors, and that advice been provided to Councillors before the company was set up. The Council had complied fully with that advice.
Mr Barry Warren asked the following questions of the Scrutiny Committee:
His questions related to Agenda item 7 on the papers and were addressed to the Chairman.
On 11th October 2023 he had received a letter in the post from the Chief Executive. In the letter it was repeatedly stated that it is written to him on behalf of the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee. At the end of the letter it was signed as being on behalf of the Chair and the Deputy Chair.
1. Did both you and your Deputy Chair approve the wording of this letter?
2. Did you set the list of former councillors to receive this letter and who were they?
3. He was only aware of two other former Leaders receiving this letter in addition to himself. Certainly no others from the final Cabinet received copies and one of them had been a member of Cabinet from May 2019. Why were they not contacted?
4. In the penultimate paragraph, on your behalf, it stated: The District Solicitor would be reviewing all information provided in order to ensure it met the standards of accuracy and integrity that befits the worthiness of the scrutiny committee’s consideration.
a) He was in a position to provide accurate information supported by evidence – even of officers giving misleading information to members. Why did you suggest that the information I could provide would need filtering by the District Solicitor?
b) Were you wishing to apply censorship to the work of the Scrutiny Committee?
5. Mention was made of members having the opportunity to review a ‘vast quantity of audit and financial information’.
a) Who was going to select what members would review?
b) Would members be directed to members’ and public questions at the various times or those documents from the Leader and Cabinet that pointed out that some reports only contained information provided by Directors of 3 Rivers – one of whom was also the S151 officer?
As the questions had not been provided in advance, Mr Warren was told that written answers would be provided.