A business report into Sutton’s heat network scheme is being kept secret by the LibDem-controlled council. And now they’re spending more public cash on an appeal to keep the report under wraps, as CARL SHILTON reports
Ruth Dombey, the leader of Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton, is to be the latest guest on BBC Radio London’s “Ask The Leader” phone-in programme tomorrow night.
There, she is sure to face questions over why her council has ignored the Information Commissioner, defied the ruling of a panel of judges, and is now spending potentially tens of thousands of pounds to keep secret a report on the financial prospects for one of her pet projects.
Dombey’s council paid consultants KPMG £30,000 to review the financial model of SDEN, the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, whose business plan is to take water, heated by the Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane, and flog it for heating to housing estates and council buildings around the area.
KPMG’s report is widely believed to have provided arguments for the economic viability for SDEN, and therefore for the £210million Viridor incinerator built at Beddington Lane.
The financial success of the business SDEN’s heating was supposed to generate – which was supposed to be worth about £6million a year – now appears to be wrecked, since, as Inside Sutton reported last week, St Helier Hospital has opted out of using the expensive SDEN scheme.
Dombey and Sutton Council have kept the KPMG report’s findings secret.
Even elected councillors have been denied access to the report.
Nick Mattey, the independent councillor and incinerator whistleblower, last year won a judgement from the Information Commissioner that Sutton Council must release the report in the interests of transparency. Sutton Council ignored that ruling.
The Information Commissioner then sought a court order against Sutton Council, getting them to release the KPMG report. The panel of judges ruled in favour of the Commissioner, and against Sutton Council, quashing their appeal.
But Dombey has decided to spend even more Council Tax-payers’ money on expensive lawyers by appealing against the judges’ decision.
It is almost as if Sutton Council has something to hide over SDEN.
The council has pursued its policy of secrecy under two successive chief executives, Niall Bolger and the recently appointed Helen Bailey. This suggests that there is strong political influence in the matter coming from Dombey and the LibDems who control the council and who have been lobbying on behalf of Viridor’s incinerator business for the past decade.
Mattey has been seeking the release of the report from Sutton Council since the start of the year, when the judges made their decision that it should be made public. Bailey and other council officials stonewalled, refusing to do as the court ordered and failing even to reply to requests that they do so.
Then, a fortnight ago, Bailey finally got round to responding to Mattey.
“The council has sought permission to appeal against the Lower Tier Tribunal’s ruling on your Freedom of Information request for disclosure of the financial model review of SDEN,” the CEO wrote.
“Our legal advice suggests that the Tribunal has not applied the law correctly in relation to the disclosure of the document and also that we should challenge whether the Judge correctly applied the public interest test in weighing up the benefit to the public of disclosure against the detriment to the council.
“We do not consider that this step will incur significant legal costs. If permission is not granted by the First Tier Tribunal, the council is entitled to appeal directly to the Upper Tier Tribunal.”
The latest ruling could be handed down within a couple of weeks.
He remains unimpressed by Sutton Council’s cover-up over their multi-million-pound SDEN project. “I am disappointed that a council should be trying to withhold information.
“How much will it cost the taxpayer to try and block the disclosure of this information? Viridor seems to be very concerned about this information becoming public – are they making any contribution towards the council’s legal costs as they battle to keep the report secret?”
Mattey says that the report includes, “… information that would explain why a council backed by an incinerator company are ripping off the very people they were elected to represent”.
Dombey and her chums have a bit of a reputation for cover-ups at Sutton Council.
They tried very hard to keep secret the involvement of Dombey’s own mother as a trustee of charities for the elderly which were defrauded of thousands of pounds by Alan Salter, who was a serving Sutton LibDem councillor at the time of the crimes.
As was later reported by BBC television, Salter was convicted on multiple charges of fraud and theft. He only resigned as a LibDem councillor when his arrest was inevitable.
Now, once again, Dombey and her council colleagues appear prepared to go to any lengths – and considerable cost to the public – to ensure that their KPMG report on their failing heating network never sees the light of day.
- The Eddie Nestor show is on BBC Radio London tomorrow evening, Thursday, April 24, with Cllr Dombey expected to appear from around 6.30pm. Anyone wishing to submit questions to the leader of Sutton Council for use in the programme may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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