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Hundreds Sign Petition Demanding Inquiry into Former Woking Council Leadership

Published on: 9 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 11 Jun, 2021

Petitioner Andy Caulfield (also chair of SWAG South Woking Action Group).

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Hundreds of people have signed a petition asking for an inquiry into the actions, while in office, of the previous Woking council leadership and management.

It follows an independent investigation into the council’s processes, involving stadium and housing developments planned for Woking Football Club and its Kingfield surroundings, which confirmed the council failed to properly address risks, lacked openness and had conflicts of interest.

The chief executive, deputy chief executive and council leader all retired in March this year, a few months after the investigator’s report came out.

Former Woking Borough Council chief executive Ray Morgan.

Petitioner Andy Caulfield, part of the South Woking Action Group who objected to the Kingfield plans, said residents still have questions and an inquiry should be pursued, regardless of the three senior people’s departures.

“They seem to have been playing real-life Monopoly at the public’s expense,” he said.

His comment is based on Dr Gifty Edila’s recommendation to Woking Borough Council (WBC) that all major development projects should have contingency plans for managing risks, and minutes taken at meetings for accountability.

The retired barrister, appointed by Woking Borough Council (WBC) to investigate at the end of last year, said she had been “surprised” to be told no risk template existed for “a project of this magnitude”.

Former council leader David Bittleston

Following the report David Bittleston’s successor, current council leader Ayesha Azad, said the council “with the best of intentions, took a wrong turn”, blaming the council’s enthusiasm for the project.

The petition, signed by more than 330 people, reads: “Lessons have been learned to prevent any repetition, but Messrs Bittleston, Morgan and Spinks have now retired, with Mr Bryant to follow, but what residents still do not understand is what these four – council leader and WBC’s three senior officers – were doing over many years to lead to such a damning report.

“Additional specific investigations into their actions and behaviours are required.”

Mr Caulfield said given Dr Edila’s findings as well as the spiralling cost of Victoria Square: “Many residents had commented that those ex-leaders should not be allowed just to retire and draw pensions if they had acted inappropriately in public office.”

“Depending on what enquiries find it will be for others to decide [on any action], but we need to get away from attitude [that] they’ve retired on public pensions so [there’s] nothing we can do,” he added.

Officers are preparing a report setting out progress achieved to date on Dr Edila’s recommendations, expected to be put to full council on July 7.

The petition is available here until Monday June 14. A petition signed by at least 400 people is referred to a full council meeting.

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