The opposition leader on Sutton Council is seeking an urgent, independent inquiry into how a senior Liberal Democrat party official failed to declare an interest when on the board of the borough’s social housing partnership, as they awarded a multi-million-pound contract to a company which had made significant donations to Sutton LibDems.
Inside Croydon reported yesterday how former LibDem councillor John Drage had failed to make the sort of declarations of interest demanded of people holidng public office. Drage was the chairman of Sutton LibDems when they received £7,500 in donations from Cheam business Smith & Byford, around the same time that the company was bidding for an £11million, 10-year contract with Sutton Housing Partnership. Drage was a board member of SHP at that same time.
Drage had also previously failed to declare an interest when a member of the South London Waste Partnership when it was handing out a £1billion contract for the Beddington Lane incinerator to Viridor, whose company chair just happened to be a lifelong friend of Drage and his family.
Tim Crowley, the leader of the Tory group on Sutton Council, has written to Niall Bolger, the council’s chief executive, and SHP with what he describes as “some serious questions”.
“In 2015 and 2016, I demanded that Sutton Council look into the actions of John Drage and his failure to declare his interests when sitting on the board of SLWP and awarding preferred bidder status to Viridor,” Crowley told Inside Croydon.
“I am amazed that a second incidence of Mr Drage’s failure to declare an interest when valuable contracts are being awarded has surfaced. Sutton’s chief executive and the council’s Standards Committee refused point-blank to take any action last time, despite clear evidence of Mr Drage’s actions.
“I think this new evidence of a failure to declare an interest demands immediate and thorough action.
“Sutton Housing Partnership is now in a difficult situation, as this issue casts questions over its actions and due diligence. That’s what happens when someone with decision-making power fails to make a declaration – everyone becomes tarred with the same brush, totally unfairly in my view.
“I will therefore be writing to the chief executive of SHP, and to Sutton Council’s chief executive, to demand an immediate and thorough independent inquiry into the conduct of Mr Drage and also the conduct of Smith & Byford. At a time when it has been suggested that procurement failures could have had an influence on the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, these revelations show more and more that transparency in local government is essential if the public is to trust those who make decisions on their behalf.
“Questions must also be asked of Smith & Byford. What on earth were they thinking by making political donations to the local ruling Liberal Democrats whose chairman was on the board of the SHP at a time when they were pitching for £1m-plus annual contracts?”
No one from Sutton LibDems, including Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake, has responded to Inside Croydon’s questions over Drage’s conduct. At Sutton Council, Bolger is away on a three-week holiday and has not responded to our questions on this matter, either.
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