22 August 2012

Blood from a stone

Recently I made an FoI enquiry of South Somerset District Council with regard to a complaint(s) against ex-Local and District Cllr Tony Canvin. SSDC seem to be very reluctant to discuss this matter but, after experiencing more of SSDC's stonewalling, the Authority was kind enough to send me a decision notice dating back more than 2 years.

As you can see, the Notice is dated 26th February 2010, and the summary of the complaint makes interesting reading, especially when read against the findings of the External Auditor's Report in the Public Interest. If, like me, you believe that the External Auditor's Report is a qualified and accurate document, then I would say that significant elements of the complaint are substantiated.

So, what exactly is SSDC doing with this complaint? In simple terms, SSDC is doing its very best to kick it into the long grass. The Authority has had since the publication of the External Auditor's Report in February of this year and, thus far, has done nothing. As I understand it, the Authority was represented at the Public Meeting on 29th February where the Report was discussed so I assume that the Authority is not in ignorance of the Report and its contents.

Interestingly, in July of 2011, the following comment was included in the Authority's Draft Minutes:

Then in May of 2012, the following comment was included in the Authority's Draft Minutes:

And what exactly is the status of this complaint today? No-one seems to know and it is my own certain view, based upon its behaviour thus far, that the Authority doesn't want to deal with this complaint against one of its 'chosen sons'.

This reminded me of what I thought at the time was a throw-away comment by then Cllr Tony Canvin at a Somerton Town Council meeting on 16th December 2008. Whilst discussing a Section 106 agreement relating to Midas Homes, Cllr Canvin told the meeting, with some relish, that he "gave Ian Clarke an education last week". I wondered, at the time, what Cllr Canvin meant by the comment because it seemed to indicate to me that he held some sway with, or authority over, Mr Ian Clarke who is the Authority's Solicitor and, I assume, its senior law officer. I am sure that this is not the case but I do wonder why the complaint against Canvin is given so little consideration today, in comparison to, say, the raft of complaints lodged by Canvin and others against Cllr Fraser-Hopewell.

After a lengthy, painful and expensive investigation, SSDC established that that raft of complaints was completely without foundation. Compare that to the 'abuse of public funds', 'unlawful expenditure' and 'acting without authority' detailed in the External Auditor's Report and it does raise questions as to why the Authority seeks to do nothing. The Authority's secretive response to any enquiries just adds to the impression that the Authority seeks, in Canvin's case, to do nothing.

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly