Whitehill & Bordon Community Party leader Andy Tree has been pulled up for not declaring an interest when handing out a sizeable grant to Bordon’s Forest Community Centre this summer.
In his role as East Hampshire cabinet member for Whitehill & Bordon, Cllr Tree approved a grant of £178,000 for refurbishment of the Pinehill Road centre in July using his delegated powers, without council scrutiny.
However, an eagle-eyed resident flagged up that as Cllr Tree was appointed to the committee of the Whitehill & Bordon Community Association (WBCA), which runs the centre, this could be viewed as a conflict of interest.
Liam Harrison raised a complaint with the council, stating: “How is it possible that Cllr Tree was enabled to sign off on a decision he quite clearly has an interest in?”
In response, East Hampshire’s corporate governance solicitor and deputy monitoring officer, Satinder Sahota, agreed the decision-making process had been flawed and confirmed the funding decision will be reviewed by the council’s cabinet.
Mr Sahota said: "Cllr Tree’s register of interests should refer to Whitehill & Borden Community Association as an ‘outside body’ appointment. This regrettably has not occurred and is an oversight which (on preliminary investigation) is not considered wilful or deliberate.
"Please note, while Cllr Tree was appointed to the outside body of Whitehill & Borden Community Association, Cllr Tree has not attended any meetings of the association or taken part in, nor been privy to its usual business as a community association.
"Nonetheless, and as result of the circumstances, it is considered appropriate to refer Cllr Tree’s decision to award the community association funding to the council’s cabinet committee for a further review, and for cabinet’s decision.
"This decision is anticipated to take place at the next scheduled cabinet committee meeting on September 7."
A council spokesman said: “We have dealt with this issue entirely appropriately, following the delegated decision process. As soon as it came to our attention that Cllr Tree had not, as an oversight, identified this interest, we acted immediately.
“We referred the issue to our monitoring officer who reviewed what happened and decided this delegated decision should be reviewed and reconsidered by cabinet in September.”
Cllr Tree said although he was appointed to the WBCA in May, this was never communicated to the association and the appointment never took effect.
“As a result, I did not disclose it or actively engage with WBCA in terms of the appointment,” he added.
Cllr Tree said he had since relinquished his WBCA appointment, with community party colleague Cllr Catherine Clark now the WBCA representative from East Hampshire District Council.
Cllr Tree's statement in full:
"This one is quite simple in that although EHDC did appoint me to the Whitehill & Bordon Community Association (WBCA) at the annual council meeting on May 18.
"However, this was never communicated to WBCA and thus the appointment never took effect under their constitution. As a result, I did not disclose it or actively engage with WBCA in terms of the appointment.
"WBCA did confirm to me directly on July 28 that as far as they are concerned, I had not been appointed to them. For the avoidance of all doubt, I have no pecuniary (financial) interest in WBCA/Forest Community Centre.
"I have now made a number of grants to local organisations using my delegated powers and so would be totally incorrect to say money is being channelled to any one place.
"This also follows a robust review process by officers, where the officers in their professional capacity have supported the applications with impartial recommendations to approve.
"I want to make a positive difference locally and am pleased to be able to do so with the delegated powers, respecting the mandate given to the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party by voters.
"A bit of background context: I was appointed rep to many local organisations at annual council on May 18 that I have since relinquished, as we needed a bit more time after the final administration discussions and annual council meeting to decide which councillor should be rep to each outside body.
"Therefore, I took many on a temporary basis. Cllr Catherine Clark is now the WBCA rep from EHDC.
"With regards to WBCA grant, there has been no impropriety on my part and I do not believe my decision to be ultra vires for reasons stated above. However, transparency is key and so having sought advice from the monitoring officer, I felt it would be better for the cabinet (without me present) to review the decision and then make a final decision on the decision.
"Even if not necessary, it is very important to me that there can be no doubt that EHDC and myself follow transparent processes.
"I should add there is no cover up as this would be published in the public domain for the next cabinet meeting. The only reason it is not yet in public domain is because the next cabinet meeting is not until September 14 so the agenda has yet to be created and published.
"What this does remind me is that there are those who are seeking to undermine me and my attempts to support Whitehill & Bordon. This can be unpleasant at times but in democratic society, decisions can be questioned and it is quite right for me to be fairly scrutinised.
"However, I will never apologise for seeking to work hard for Whitehill & Bordon and ensure we get our fair share from EHDC."