Sparks fly at Merton Council meeting after corruption probe announces interim results


Opposition councillors criticised the slow pace of the review and challenged its findings.


By Lewis Brown

A Merton Borough Council meeting turned acrimonious on Wednesday as councillors criticised the slow pace of a corruption investigation.

In November six anonymous whistleblowers claiming to be council officers made allegations of unlawful payments totalling over £1m.

It resulted in the appointment of auditors Ernst & Young to carry out an independent investigation into whether a senior officer misled councillors.

An email to group leaders circulated shortly before the meeting stated there was ‘no evidence of corruption, malpractice or unlawful expenditure’.

The final report will be discussed at the council’s General Purposes committee on March 12.

This did not satisfy opposition councillors who insisted they had waited months for answers.

In a heated exchange, UKIP Councillor Richard Hilton said: “Whilst it is disgraceful we have not got a full report yet, we have not even got an interim report.”

In response, Cabinet Member for Finance Mark Allison launched a fierce attack on his critic, which led to Mayor Krystal Miller stepping in and insisting Cllr Allison stick to the question at hand.

The reprimands continued from other areas of the chamber.

Merton’s Conservative councillors successfully pushed through a motion of regret that investigations into the council’s hiring practices and use of long term consultants to fill vacant posts at well above the going rate have still not concluded.

Conservative Councillor David Williams criticised his 10-week wait for a reply to his question at a previous meeting.

“I am angry because it is damage limitation,” he said.

“People expect this council to be a responsible guardian of money.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Iain Dysart expressed disappointment about the time taken to carry out the investigation, suggesting he had expected a report before Christmas.

Council leader Stephen Alambritis said it was important for auditors to have time to conduct a thorough investigation. His colleague Cllr Allison spoke on his relief at the initial findings.

“It was always hard to believe a council like Merton, which has improved so much, is so careful with money and was voted best council in the country, was corrupt,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Avi1111, with thanks.  

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