June 8, 2022 8.00 pm

“Cover up” accusations after police probe not mentioned in council fraud report

Councillor unhappy allegations weren’t mentioned

Council officers have denied covering up allegations of fraud at the council after police asked them not to comment on a potential incident in official documents.

South Kesteven District Council’s Governance and Audit Committee received an annual report on counter fraud on Wednesday, including an update on steps taken to make fuel theft more difficult.

However, Independent Councillor Ashley Baxter raised concerns after the report did not include issues previously raised by Councillor Charmaine Morgan, when an undisclosed number of people were suspended from the council in February this year.

“Why is there no reference in this report to anything within the housing department?” he said, noting that there had been staffing issues in the department.

The allegations circulated around a potential breach in council housing allocation.

Conservative Councillor Adam Stokes circulated an answer to members prior to the meeting, however this was not read out in the meeting.

He said: “At the moment I can’t comment any further, but if there’s any further questions [Cllr Baxter] would like answering I’m sure we’ll be able to pick that up.”

However, Councillor Baxter was not happy with the answer, adding: “We know, or residents know… that there were allegations of wrongdoing in the housing department last year.”

“This is a report about fraud in our council last year, why is there no mention of [the allegations] in this report?”

Chief finance officer Richard Wyles explained that it was because investigations were still ongoing.

However, he added: “To our knowledge there’s only one case that may be a fraudulent issue which is currently in the hands of the police.

“We cannot prejudge the outcomes of investigations. It’s not concluded as a fraudulent issue, it’s a suspicion, that’s all it is.”

He said there had been a “whole host” of reasons around different cases that weren’t relevant to the committee.

However, Councillor Baxter said: “If the police have asked us not to include any reference to allegations or suspicions of fraud… how many other departments have the police given us advice to cover up ?”

Mr Wyles denied there had been a request to cover up the investigations, instead repeating that the information was missing only because the investigation was ongoing and that it may turn out not to be fraud.

In February, Councillor Morgan said the suspension and investigation of staff members in the housing department was “shocking”.

“At a time when there is such a shortage of council homes it is vital that there are transparent and robust procedures in place to ensure a fair distribution of homes based on need,” she said.

Council leader Kelham Cooke at the time expressed disappointment over the comments when investigations were still ongoing.

He urged anyone concerned about fraud to report it, adding that he would “not tolerate any form of fraudulent activity”.