A councillor has criticised efforts to “gloss over” a failed Lichfield land deal that has cost taxpayers more than £100,000.
Land at Leyfields and Netherstowe had been earmarked to be sold to a housing association before a public campaign led to the agreement being scrapped after it emerged regulations had not been followed.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of Lichfield District Council’s audit and standards committee where a report said
“An issue arose during the 2020/21 financial year in relation to a planning issue whereby legislation in relation to required public consultations were not followed prior to approval of an application.
“This led to a cease in a land disposal involving public open space and a small cost of around £100,000 to the council.
“An internal investigation into the issue noted that the problem stemmed from a report issued to cabinet which did not contain complete information, including a consideration of the legal aspects of the land disposal issues identified.”Report to meeting of Lichfield District Council’s audit and standards committee
But Cllr Steve Norman, leader of the Labour opposition group, called on the local authority’s external auditors to justify describing the figure paid in compensation as a “small cost”.
Councillor Norman said:
“Never mind that the actual figure was £17,900 more than that described by the auditors in their report, it seemed to gloss over the fact that it was an illegal sale.
“It was illegal because it did not comply with the legislation obliging councils to consult residents at an early stage in any proposed disposal.
“Originally it was not even being reported as a ‘significant incident of non-compliance with laws and regulations’ in the draft auditors’ report until I raised the issue at a meeting last year.”Cllr Steve Norman, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Norman said glossing over significant losses had shown why other issues – such as the £924 taken by Staffordshire County Council member Cllr Thomas Loughborugh-Rudd for a tree planting project that never went ahead and only repaid almost a year later – were not being fully scrutinised.
“If a council’s external auditors describe a loss of £100,000 as ‘small’ then I can see why the county council’s Conservative chair of the audit and standards committee was happy for the report into the £924 grant for one of his party colleagues to be entirely in private.
“That money is obviously of no great significance, confirmed by the fact that less than half of the members turned up for the meeting in March.”Cllr Steve Norman, Lichfield District Council