Chowney responds to Lee’s allegations
Earlier this month HOT reported claims by Tory councillor Rob Lee that Labour councillor Kim Forward, lead member for housing, had failed to declare an interest in the Letstart Letting scheme. Council leader Peter Chowney has responded to the allegations. Nick Terdre reports.
Before publishing the article, which came out on 8 November, the writer attempted to contact Cllr Forward by phone and email, but received no reply. He also contacted Cllr Chowney by email, and Cllr Chowney sent a reply on 7 November. Because of a glitsch with the email system, the writer did not receive this reply. It was only when he again sent emails to both councillors that he received an email from Mr Chowney advising that he had replied to the first email “on the next day” and was resending it.
The message states that Cllr Forward “…did declare an interest when it first arose, and when we made a decision to continue with the social lettings agency – that was in February 2015, when she declared a prejudicial interest and took no part in the decision.
“That was because she owned a second property which could potentially have been let though the social lettings agency, although her daughter was living in it at the time.”
Several other councillors, including himself, had also declared interests at this time, Cllr Chowney told HOT.
With respect to the refresh of the housing strategy discussed at the Cabinet and full council meeting on 20 July, Cllr Chowney said that policies were not being decided on this occasion: “…it was a description of how all the policies we already have combine to form an overall strategy, we were agreeing nothing new.”
At the time of the July meeting, Cllr Chowney says, Cllr Forward’s property was not part of the Social Lettings Agency (SLA) – it only became so a couple of weeks later, when “…she took legal advice from the council’s monitoring officer, and did exactly as she was advised to do.” She declared her interest in the SLA at the meeting of the Oversight and Scrutiny committee on 12 September.
Cllr Lee confronted Cllr Forward at the meeting of the full council on 26 October. According to the draft minutes, he noted that she had “declared a prejudicial interest in the matter at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting” in September 2016, but that this “was not reflected on her Register of Interest. Given this conflict of interest will she resign from her portfolio?
“Councillor Forward replied that she would not resign from her portfolio and had taken legal advice with regard to managing any potential conflict of interest,” the draft minutes note.
Cllr Chowney also said that legal advice was being sought about a “couple of straightforward lies about Kim” on the Hastings & Rye Conservatives Facebook page: the claims that her house in the lettings scheme would be refurbished and that it was a buy-to-let property. The latter is not true and the council does not carry out refurbishment, though it may undertake minor repairs during the period of the lease, he said.
Properties included in the Letstart Letting scheme are used to house homeless households, but owners are paid significantly less than they would get on the open market as they are relieved of the hassle of finding tenants and managing the property, Cllr Chowney told HOT.
Cllr Lee declined to comment on Cllr Chowney’s statement.
With respect to Cllr Forward’s failure to reply to HOT’s enquiries, Cllr Chowney explained that, “Kim has been advised not to respond to the untrue allegations, by the council’s lawyers and the Association of Labour Councillors’ legal team.” With respect to HOT’s previous article, Cllr Chowney said, ”We have noted that you’ve published an article that is probably libellous. Kim is taking legal advice.”
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