Trying to get the truth out of the Council is no easy task

In February 2020 the Directors of London Luton Airport Ltd (who are also Luton Councillors), helped vote down a proposal by the Liberal Democratic opposition party and this group (Friends of Wigmore Park and StopLAE) that Luton Airport should pay for a residents’ parking scheme in the Vauxhall Park area of Crawley Ward, due to holidaymakers parking in residential streets outside people’s homes to avoid parking charges. This, in our opinion, was a clear conflict of interest – but the Council has a long track record of what many consider to be breaches when it comes to Luton Airport.

Not content with just accepting this breach, this group made a written complaint also filling out a council-provided complaint form on February 13th asking for a hearing of the Standards Committee and to be kept informed of the outcome.  

As the months past we heard nothing, so on July 17th we contacted Angela Claridge again, who is the Service Director and Monitoring Officer and who provided the form and asked the following questions:

Did the complaint lead to a hearing of the Standards Committee?

If it did can we see the report?

If it didn’t why was there no hearing?

Again we heard nothing so we wrote for the third time on August 5th.  Once again we heard nothing from Ms Claridge.

Finally – with the Council refusing to offer us any sort of explanation, we have made a written complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about not only the conflict of interest but also the Council failing to engage with the complainant.

Despite our wish that our complaint follows the Council procedure regarding complaints against Councillors we have little faith in the Standards Committee. 

In 2019 we put in a complaint against Cllr Mark Rivers.  Cllr Mark Rivers is connected to a charity that over previous 5 years had received donations totalling £820,490 from London Luton Airport Ltd.  In that time Cllr Mark Rivers’ name has appeared yearly as part of the management committee of that charity.   This did not stop him voting in favour of a planning application submitted by LLAL rather than declaring an interest.  As a Council appointee on this charity, apparently that clears him of any conflict of interest, or so we were informed.  With the Standards Committee made up of many of his fellow Councillors, in our eyes it was not surprising he was cleared of any wrong-doing.

We also have an outstanding complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.   We put in a Freedom of information request to the Council asking the following questions about their £243m Dart protect, that will link the railway station with the existing terminal.

“We understand that significant projects need to satisfy HM Treasury Business Case guidelines in the following Case Model Headings;-Strategic Case, Economic Case, Commercial Case, Financial Case and Management Case. Could you please let us have the details of the above, or direct us to where we can find them, for the DART Rapid Transit Link you are currently constructing

The Council refused to provide this information claiming it was confidential.  The only reason we can think the Council refuses to provide this information is that the project did not satisfy the HM Treasury Business case guidelines and they want to keep that fact out of the public domain.

Once again unsurprisingly LBC refused this information under the grounds of commercial confidentiality of the project.  We asked again on the grounds that as the project is well on its way to completion, how could that data still be commercially sensitive?  Our request was based on seeing how this project was the best use of public funds, and when it would start to pay back that money and over what time frame?  We were refused again under the Freedom of Information Act, section 43, on the grounds that this information was commercially sensitive.  

The Information Commission has decided that we have a case to see that information, and are liaising between ourselves and LBC.

Our research would indicate only two reasons for the LBC reluctance to show the business case for the DART.  One is that it does not meet the HM Treasury five case guidelines on public funds investments.  Secondly, that this publically-funded project was overseen and negotiated by an employee of the airport operator, London Luton Airport Operations Ltd.   Why is a senior officer of the direct beneficiary of the project, whose company has no financial input whatsoever, in such a position? 

Was he paid to be in this role, if not what was the reasoning behind it?

As always we are left with more questions than answers, but we are finding with LBC that is just standard practice.

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