The deputy leader of North East Lincolnshire Council has stepped down from his role after reports revealed he had business links with a convicted fraudster.
Conservatve Councillor John Fenty, who was also cabinet member for Regeneration, Skills and Housing, had set up a business with Alex May, who was previously convicted and jailed for six years for his part in a multi-million pound scam.
Councillor Fenty said the pair were no longer business partners. The company they had set up, Town Centre Living Ltd, had not even started trading yet.
He helped see his party to office in North East Lincolnshire for the first time in the 2019 general election and sat on the first wholly Conservative cabinet in the borough’s history.
John Fenty is also a majority shareholder for Grimsby Town FC.
In a statement, Councillor Fenty said he had reflected on the recent reports and the impact on his party and the local authority.
“I have taken the decision in the best interests of all concerned and to avoid an unwarranted distraction to the enormous progress being made in the borough,” he said.
“I’m proud to have played my part in that progress and the re-invigorated spirit the area now has in itself, a spirit I’m confident will continue to burn bright under a Conservative administration.”
He went on to praise a “sea-change in the ambition to re-build the economy after years of struggle” which he said would “continue to bear fruit in the future”.
He also thanked council employees for their support.
“My decision today will allow me to focus more on my other business activities and the football club I’m passionate about. I have been meticulous in declaring any conflicts of interests throughout my time as a councillor and can hold my head up high,” he said.
“However, I’m not prepared to let matters in my private business life become a drain on the administration’s effort to make this borough a great place to live work and play.”
He said he had “great regret and sadness” over the decision and said it had “been my greatest privilege to undertake”.
He added he would continue to serve his ward of Humberston and New Waltham.
Council leader Philip Jackson said “no-one should be in any doubt the contribution has made” to the “massive strides in the borough” since the election.
“Our collective goals have been to restore the pride in the area and see it grow again by attracting investment and John can look back with pride at how far we’ve come with those achievements and the huge part he’s played,” he said.
“I respect and understand his decision, but in accepting it, I would also like to put on record my personal thanks to him for his support to me and other cabinet colleagues since we took control of the council and in helping us achieve so much in such a short time.’’
Opposition councillors have called for an investigation into Councillor Fenty’s business dealings with Mr May and whether there was any impact on the authority.
The club on Monday night announced it had rejected a bid by Mr May to acquire £1,000,000 of shares which would have been used as a contribution towards the cost of a new training facility for the club and local community.
They denied the application was a bid to acquire the club itself or a controlling interest in it.
A statement from the board said: “The board had previously made it clear to Mr May that because of his criminal conviction he could not become a director or be involved in the management of the club.
“He understood that position but nevertheless still wished to proceed with the share acquisition.
“However in all the circumstances the board declined to accept the offer.”
Mr May led a gang of con artists targetting elderly houseowners in 2007 in Manchester. He stole £3.5million and tried to steal another £3.3million.
Following his sentence he changed his name by deed poll from Alick Kapikanya.
A North East Lincolnshire Council spokesman said “We are aware of media reports around Mr Fenty and the football club this weekend.
“As with all other local authorities in the UK, the council recognises a distinction between a councillor’s personal life and their role as a councillor.
“As such, as this stage, there is nothing further the council would propose to say on the issue.”