At last night’s Scrutiny Committee meeting, during the discussion surrounding the call-in of the Isle of Wight council Executive’s decision on the Capital Contingency Fund report, deputy leader of the council, Cllr Steve Stubbings sought to clear up any misconceptions about the issues surrounding the paper.
Cllr Stubbings read out a four minute prepared statement outlining the sequence of events that led up to a decision being made by the Isle of Wight Executive on 9th September to approve the paper.
Cllr Stubbings claims truth “distorted out of all recognition”
Cllr Stubbings started by saying,
“Firstly, and perhaps surprisingly, I’m grateful to Cllr Blezzard for calling this in … notwithstanding the delay in capital expenditure on several significant and vital projects … and the fact that the premise for the call-in is, and I’m being generous here, somewhat spurious, amongst everything else that’s been going on around County Hall over the past six weeks, upon which I’d be happy to expand, should the committee so desire, the facts, indeed the truth, surrounding this report have been distorted out of all recognition and I appreciate the opportunity I have been afforded, by the chair, at this moment, to put the record straight in the public arena.”
He then went on to outline the sequence of events surrounding paper H, the Capital Contingency Fund report,
“On Tuesday 5 August, immediately following the meeting of the property disposal and Capital Programme sub committee, a committee which I chair, Stuart Fraser, head of finance, approached me and offered to brief the executive on a paper then in preparation relating to Capital contingency budget which was coming to executive in September.
“Mr Fraser had just presented a report on the capital monitoring position for quarter one. I duly accepted his offer.
“On 13 August Mr Fraser provided a first draft of the report to the Leader, Cllr Gilbey, Cllr Jordan and myself… I would like, with the permission of the chair to read a section of the accompanying email…
Attached is the first draft of the report on the Capital Contingency Budget for the Executive on 9 September for your consideration. I sent the draft to various officers last week for any comments and in particular to add the narrative for each of the projects in para 8, unfortunately they all seem to be on leave this week so this draft is entirely the work of myself and staff in the finance team. Happy to discuss the content at any point, and as suggested previously, we will be available to discuss the report at your informal Executive meeting next Tuesday morning if you wish to do so.”
Cllr Stubbings: Cllr Gilbey wasn’t ever author of the paper
Readers may remember Shanklin county councillors Richard Priest and Jon Gilbey had claimed “versions of the paper were amended without the authority of the author” – asserting that Cllr Gilbey was the author.
Cllr Stubbings explained clearly last night that Jon Gilbey was not, and had never been, the author of the paper,
“No member responded to Mr Fraser’s correspondence. In other words, contrary to an assertion made by a Mr Pugh of Shanklin in a statement which was read out by a member of this council during the full council meeting of Weds 17 Sept, the original wording in relation to this or any other section of the paper had NOT (at the time of the meeting on 19/8) been approved by the then lead executive Member Cllr Jon Gilbey.
“To be clear, Cllr Gilbey was not, and never has been, the author of this, or any subsequent draft, of this paper. Stuart Fraser was. In fact, I would question whether Cllr Gilbey even saw this first draft of the paper prior to the informal executive meeting (which he did not attend) of 19/8.”
Cllrs Priest and Gilbey didn’t attend meeting
Cllr Stubbings then went on to explain the next stage of the process,
“We arranged for Mr Fraser and Bill Murphy to attend our weekly informal executive meeting at 8.30 on Tuesday 19/8 and, on 15/8, in the leader’s absence, I emailed all executive members and all chairs of advisory committees….
“Subject: Tuesday am informal executive
Ian and Luisa are both away
Bill Murphy and Stuart Fraser are planning to join us to discuss capital projects in prep for our Sept exec meeting
Please do everything you can to attend
Many thanks, Steve”
“I received 4 apologies. Two of which were from Cllrs Gilbey and Priest.
Later in the meeting, Cllr Stubbings, confirmed that informal executive meetings take place every Tuesday morning and have done since the Island Independents came into power in May 2013 – he added that he’d not missed a single meeting. From memory, he said, Cllrs Priest and Gilbey rarely attended the informal executive meetings.
“Insidious activity” mentioned
In the absence of Cllrs Priest and Gilbey from the meeting on 19th August, it was explained by Cllr Stubbings that a consensus was reached by the other members present to exclude three items from the approval of funding until further information was available, two related to Shanklin, the other to Cowes Enterprise College (then under Cllr Priest’s portfolio),
“At that meeting all six members present agreed that there was sufficient justification to exclude the items relating to Cowes Enterprise College, Shanklin Lift and Rush Close on the basis of reasons subsequently provided by me in the executive meeting in September. I’d be happy to share these reasons if any members present are not up to speed.
“Following Mr Fraser’s presentation of a second draft of the report Cllrs Priest and Gilbey proceeded vehemently to question the process and put in place a chain of circumstances which masked a far more insidious activity taking place parallel to these events.”
Priest and Gilbey had items put back on the list
Cllr Stubbings finished by saying,
“They [Priest and Gilbey] subsequently secured the reintroduction of the three excluded items for draft three of the paper before it went to call-over and I, and, as far as I am aware, no other member, objected to this.
“Since both Cllr Priest and Cllr Gilbey declared an interest and left the room during discussion on this paper at the meeting of the executive on 9 September, I would consider the scrutiny panel’s interest in this specific detail entirely appropriate.
“In summary, chair, everything that took place around my involvement in the production of the Capital Contingency budget paper is entirely regular and in keeping with normal practice.”
Claims of a smokescreen
Cllr Baker Smith later asked the leader whether Cllr Priest had been removed from the Executive because of his lack of engagement or was there more going on.
Raising the reference to the report being more “a smokescreen to other issues going on” she added,
“Personally I feel the report has been blown out of all proportion relating to the normal processes that go on within this council.”
The leader, Cllr Ian Stephens, said he would not assassinate another person’s character in public.
Image: © County Hall by Simon Haytack