Mark Williams on “unfortunate circumstances” arising from G. Brown case

This extraordinary letter from the Chief Executive has just been sent to all EDDC councillors:

Dear Cllr,

I am writing to confirm that the Police have announced today that they have completed their extensive investigation into matters concerning ex Cllr G. Brown. You will recall that this derived from claims that ex Cllr G. Brown made to Daily Telegraph reporters which were reported in March 2013. They have concluded, after extensive and robust enquiries, that no further action is appropriate.

As far as the Council is concerned, this leaves outstanding the issue of the East Devon Business Forum TAFF. The East Devon Business Forum no longer exists, albeit for a period of time the Council did provide secretarial and administrative support as part of its wider economic development role.

It is my advice that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee should now review what further inquiry, if any, the Committee wishes the TAFF to carry out and what the proposed terms of reference should be.

My reasons for giving this advice are that the TAFF was originally established amid, what I would term, unfortunate circumstances and a febrile atmosphere during which all manner of things were being alleged concerning the Council. Those calling for the TAFF were mainly Cllr C Wright and the East Devon Alliance/Save Our Sidmouth who considered that there was evidence of improper behaviour deriving from or through the activities of the East Devon Business Forum and alleged influence on the Council’s planning process. Inextricably linked to the issue was the fact that G. Brown chaired the Forum in his capacity as a representative of the NFU (not in his then capacity as an East Devon District Cllr).

The wording used to explain the scope for the TAFF is vague and there a number of caveats. In light of recent developments it now makes sense to reconsider what is wanted and more particularly and importantly tease out the reasons why. I say this because as the Police investigation hasn’t identified any action worth pursuing then it would be wrong to allow the same issue to be pursued through a different route i.e. via the TAFF. If a version of the TAFF is to continue the purpose needs to be quite specific and not some generalisation which would otherwise enable the TAFF to justify any and all lines of enquiry they choose to pursue. If, for example, the TAFF is simply to look at the process or means by which, generally, land is put forward for employment purposes then the Scrutiny Committee should assess how this assists in the context of the current Local Plan adoption process.

It is my understanding that during their investigation the Police met or otherwise corresponded with Cllr C Wright and the East Devon Alliance in order to ensure that they were aware of all the claimed evidence regarding the alleged activites of ex Cllr G. Brown in whatever capacity. In so far as no further action is to happen, it is important that if a TAFF is to continue it does so without the taint, innuendo or implication that gave rise to its original formation. Furthermore, the membership of the TAFF should comprise Cllrs who come to the matter with an open mind and who have had no involvement in the matter previously. If a Cllr believes they have material evidence that might be of use to the TAFF they should be a witness to the TAFF and not a member of the TAFF.

If you have any queries regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mark
CEO
EDDC

4 thoughts on “Mark Williams on “unfortunate circumstances” arising from G. Brown case

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  4. In this comment I am going to give my opinion of Mark Williams recommendations. In a follow-up comment I will look at what this letter says about Mark Williams as CEO.

    1. The police statement says that the investigation has been dropped. It does not say whether there was no evidence at all or whether there was just insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution. And just because the Police did not find sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution does not mean that EDDC should not undertake its own enquiry in order to reassure both members and the public that there was nothing unethical in his behaviour even if the police are taking it no further.

    2. What is needed is to find out the truth about Graham Brown’s activities, whether his roles of Councillor, Chair of Planning, Chair of the Local Plan Forum, Chair of the East Devon Business Forum, representative of the NFU etc. resulted in conflicts of interest, whether good practice in local government was being followed and whether improvements to process, procedure, and safeguards of probity are needed in the light of all of this. As long as the investigation is above board, transparent, completely thorough and unbiased, my own view is that the best possible outcome would be for Graham Brown to be completely exonerated – but the important thing is that it is investigated properly. The police investigation has necessarily had a much narrower remit than this, and that is why a separate council investigation is needed.

    3. If we are to root out the truth, then the investigating body (in this case the TAFF) needs to have members who are willing to probe thoroughly and leave no stone unturned. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate for this than Claire Wright and (judging by their spineless attitude demonstrated in recent meetings) anyone less appropriate than one of the Tory members of the Overview and SCRUTINY committee (whose interpretation of “scrutiny” seems to me to be to accept everything at face value (i.e. “noting” reports) rather than digging to assure themselves that everything is indeed good).

    So, removing Graham Brown and the East Devon Business Forum from the scope of the TAFF, and removing from membership of the TAFF someone who might look in the “wrong” place and find something wrong, does unfortunately look like it might be a bit of a cover up.

    But with an election in the offing, a possible appearance (rightly or wrongly) of a cover-up might be the best of the alternative outcomes for the incumbent Torys.

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