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RTB Council Payments Row Erupts Over Who Was First to Discover Scandal?

Published on: 3 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 3 Mar, 2021

By Martin Giles

A bitter party-political dispute is bubbling in Millmead over who was first to reveal the scandal of £2.7 million in borough council house right-to-buy (RTB) receipts having to be surrendered to the government.

Claims that R4GV Cllr Deborah Seabrook initially uncovered the payments have been angrily dismissed by Cllr Nigel Manning (Ash Vale), leader of the eight-strong Conservative council group.

His surprise interjection at the February 10 full council budget meeting brought the payments into full public view.

But after the meeting, Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley), lead for Resources, told The Guildford Dragon NEWS the payments had first been questioned by Cllr Seabrook (Merrow), who had told the council leadership and made Cllr Manning aware. Cllr Seabrook confirmed this.

Cllrs Tim Anderson, Deborah Seabrook and Nigel Manning

Yesterday (March 1), Cllr Manning wrote: “This is factually untrue, as I raised the question in an email on July 30, 2020, following a Corporate Governance [and Standards Committee (CG&S}, which Cllr Manning chairs] report also dated July 30, which made a brief mention of a repayment of interest relating to Right to Buy receipts.

“I retain a copy of the email and the reply. This was in excess of two months before Cllr Seabrook raised any question! I followed this up with a subsequent email to seek clarification.

“I would have expected, as happened pre-May 2019 [when election-winning Lib Dems and R4GV took over the council], that any matter raised on the night and my subsequent email, having highlighted the issue, would have been reported up the ‘chain of command’ and followed up, especially as I recall, the Lead Member for resources [Cllr Anderson] was at the CG&S meeting.”

Cllr Manning, who was lead for Finance in the former Conservative-led council when the first RTB payment was made, has not yet explained why he directed his email to a council officer and did not ensure Cllr Anderson was informed. Nor did he say whether he made sure the email and reply contents were included in the committee minutes.

But apparently his message did not go “up the chain of command” and Cllr Manning said he spent “considerable time going back over previous reports to try and find earlier references to this, as I could only think I had overlooked it. I could find nothing, hence my speech on budget night”.

Cllr Seabrook said: “There was a CG&S meeting on July 30 and, while RTB was mentioned, a quick search of the papers and minutes under ‘RTB’ and ‘Right to buy’ has not revealed anything about a repayment of interest. But the reports are more than 200 pages long so I may have missed something.

“I raised the matter in a meeting with Nigel and officers on November 20, 2020, and it was agreed they would provide more information about RTB receipts and repayments once they had finalised the accounts which needed to be done by November 30. I subsequently followed up in December and then January this year.

“When I confirmed I was the first to raise the matter, I genuinely believed that to be the case. If Nigel shows me the email and I am mistaken, I shall be happy to apologise.”

Cllr Anderson added: “I was lead for Resources in July 2020 and I have absolutely no recollection of the RTB money being mentioned. That is not to say it wasn’t. If I had understood the issue at that time I would have immediately dealt with it.

“As you will see, I have moved very quickly since I found out about the repaid RTB receipts. We had our first working group meeting today, meet again next week, have already identified means of mitigating and hopefully preventing future repayments and will be reporting to the Executive on March 23 and full council on April 13.

“Nigel and Caroline Reeves are on the working group. I also asked Dawn Hudd, Ian Doyle and the new head of Housing, Matt Gould to attend. I wanted to tap into as much knowledge and experience among the officers as possible. Obviously, Claire Morris [Resources director] plays a central part in the team.

“If I missed the point back in July 2020, I deeply regret it, but I just wish someone had spelt it out to me then. I would have moved equally as fast then as I have now.”

The email Cllr Manning refers to appears to be this one, from him to the council officer:

The response included this breakdown of the RTB payments made:

In an attempt for final clarification, Dragon editor Martin Giles wrote to Cllr Manning: “So I can see that by July, 2020, the £2.7m had already been repaid but wasn’t it still important to raise the matter urgently with the council leadership so that when the payment ‘holiday’ ends further payments could be avoided?

“I had just drafted the story when I noticed your email but will now wait for your further response to try to ensure it is complete.

“It just needs an answer to the question posed above. From earlier emails, it seems that you assumed it would be reported up by others. Is that the case?”

Cllr Manning replied: “As I said, I trawled through many previous reports to see if I had missed mention of the RTB repayments. When I did not find any mention the first time, I rechecked it again!

“This took several months given the size of financial and other reports over the previous 18 month or so. I do have numerous other calls on my time and there is only so long I can read in one hit.

“As you have already written the story in your own way, I doubt anything else that I add will make any difference!!”

GBC managing director James Whiteman has already apologised for the late disclosure, taking the blame for communication errors by council officers.

See other stories on the Right-to-Buy payments here.

 

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test 2 Responses to RTB Council Payments Row Erupts Over Who Was First to Discover Scandal?

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 3, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    Does it really matter who spoke out first? Surely preventing it happening again and ensuring the person responsible for allowing it to happen in the first place is “educated” to understand it is public money and a council finance issue. Taxpayers money must be treated with respect, it is not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

  2. Paul Jarvis Reply

    March 3, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    It’s all getting a bit “he said, she said” in the council at the moment.

    I thought R4GV was going to break down the political bickering in the borough and focus on the residents.

    Seems they are intent on maintaining it as well as throwing the officers under the bus at every opportunity.

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