Lord Hanningfield Facing Further Probe By Council Sleaze Watchdog

(Telegraph) – LORD HANNINGFIELD, a Tory transport spokesman and leader of Essex County Council, is at the centre of a ‘conflict of interest’ probe by Standards for England.

If he is found guilty of any wrongdoing, Lord Hanningfield, who has led the local authority — one of the biggest in the country — for the past decade, could be banned from local politics for several years.

The investigation by Standards for England, which monitors wrongdoing in local government, centres on controversial plans by Lord Hanningfield’s council to turn local comprehensive schools into privately-run academies.

Inspectors will examine Lord Hanningfield’s role in the transfer of several Essex comprehensives worth ‘several millions of pounds’ into a private school academies trust, called the Academies Enterprise Trust, of which he is a director.

They are examining whether Lord Hanningfield failed to declare the directorship at the time of the transfer. Questions will also be asked whether he stands to benefit financially from the arrangement.

The inspectors will examine whether he broke the code of conduct which governs all local councillors. The penalty for any breach is a ban of up to five years from serving as a councillor.

The Standards Board only investigates 10 per cent of all complaints —normally the most serious or sensitive — against councillors.

Glenys Stacey, the board’s chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We have accepted it [the complaint] for investigation. There has been an allegation of the breach of the code of conduct.’

The complaint was lodged by local Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell earlier this year. Mr Russell said the alleged failure to declare his interest was ‘a most serious and blatant case of failure to comply with the high standards which should be followed by all councillors.’

Separately, it has also emerged that Lord Hanningfield declared his involvement with the trust on a separate register for peers’ interests held by the House of Lords in January this year, five months after two of the academies had opened.

Mr Russell, a councillor for 31 years in Colchester, told The Daily Telegraph he was ‘astonished’ that the peer should have been involved in the transfer of the schools ‘without him seemingly seeing any conflict.’

The schools, which have so far been transferred into the academies trust, are Greensward School in Hockley, and Bramston and Rickstones Secondary Schools in Witham (which are now known as Maltings and New Rickstones respectively).

From September, two more secondary schools in Clacton are being merged into a single school, the Clacton Coastal Academy.

Lord Hanningfield confirmed that he was being investigated; but said that he had cleared his involvement in the trust with ‘the principal legal officer at Essex County Council… [who] was entirely satisfied that the due processes were followed and adhered to.

‘I can confirm that I have no financial interest in the trust nor do I receive any fee,’ he said.

‘My only interest is to improve the educational opportunities of children in Essex including the promotion of academies as an option… which I will look forward to discussing with the Standards Board.’

A spokesman for the council said that Lord Hanningfield had now registered his involvement with the trust in writing with the council, and stressed that Lord Hanningfield did not stand to gain personally from his involvement with the trust.

Lord Hanningfield is one of three peers and two MPs being investigated by the police in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month that detectives want to know why Lord Hanningfield claimed £100,000 over seven years for staying in London despite living just 46 miles from the capital. He insisted he could justify all of his expenses claims.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: ‘In January of this year, when this matter was first raised, the county council was satisfied that Lord Hanningfield did not need to declare his position as Patron of the Academies Trust.

‘This matter has now been referred to the Standards Board and, obviously, the county council will heed any advice that is given or relevant to it. For the avoidance of any doubt, Lord Hanningfield subsequently registered this interest in January 2009.

‘Furthermore, this matter is an issue of public record; Lord Hanningfield verbally declares his role wherever appropriate and a press notice was issued when he took on the role.’

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  1. […] (24/07/2009) – Lord Hanningfield Facing Further Probe By Council Sleaze Watchdog Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Exasperating lack of accountabilityControversy of […]

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