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Letstart Letting: part of the council's strategy for housing homeless households.

Letstart Letting: part of the council’s strategy for tackling the shortage of affordable housing in Hastings.

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.

According to Cllr Chowney, Cllr Forward's property was not part of the Letstart Letting scheme at the time of the July meeting.

According to Cllr Chowney, Cllr Forward’s property was not part of the Letstart Letting scheme at the time of the July meeting of the full council.

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.”

Posted 12:30 Sunday, Nov 20, 2016 In: Politics

5 Comments


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  1. Ms. doubtfire

    Well said Mr.James – you are a brave man indeed – but are you aware that it appears the leader of this council and aforementioned councillor Forward consider some previous comments and the previous article on this matter to be potentially libellous? Tread cautiously here all ye who dare to make comment..

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Friday, Dec 2, 2016 @ 10:28

  2. Robert James

    As a Hastings resident and member of the public I would like to share my concerns that the lead Councillor for housing is directly benefiting from a policy which she has influence. This is a documented fact now.

    This may all be legal, which Councillor Peter Chowney assures us in his HOT rebuttal, however reading the Hastings constitution I would like to bring to everyone’s attention Part 5 of the constitution’s Codes and Protocols.

    Prejudicial Interests – Part 10 (b) states that “the interest is one which a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest.”

    As a member of the public I think that if you are a lead member of the council with direct input in to a scheme you are receiving money from, how can that not be prejudicial?

    We must all write to the council and make our feelings heard. How many other Councillors, Conservative or Labour have property in this scheme?

    Comment by Robert James — Thursday, Dec 1, 2016 @ 12:30

  3. Ms. doubtfire

    Not much point in making comments on this site – if it involves criticism of this council it will be removed. Transparency and Democracy at work.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Monday, Nov 21, 2016 @ 11:47

  4. chris hurrell

    Agree with Andy Ammo that silence is not the best way to allay suspicions. Threatening libel action against those who report the matter is very heavy handed. This is hardly open and transparent governance. Paragraphs 4 and 6 of part 5 of the code of conduct are very relevant.

    The fact remains that Cllr Forward failed to register her interest in owning the second property on the HBC register of interests. She also failed to register her interest in the Letstart scheme on the HBC register of interests. The register was only updated on 3 November. Cllr Chowney does not comment on this. This seems to be a breach of section 30 of the 2011 localism act

    It is true that Cllr Forward declared an interest at the meeting in February 2015 and did not participate in the meeting. However no interests were declared by any councillors at the July meetings. The housing strategy was voted on and the housing strategy does include details of the Letstart and selective licencing scheme. This could be a breach of section 31 of the 2011 Localism act.

    Comment by chris hurrell — Monday, Nov 21, 2016 @ 11:16

  5. Andy Ammo

    In advising the Councillor not to respond to the untrue allegations, the Council’s lawyers are ignoring the Council’s Constitution with its emphasis – over and over – on being above suspicion.

    Part 5 is clear about the duties and responsibilities of a Councillor, including the Seven Principles of Public Life:

    Accountability
    4. Members should be accountable to the public for their actions and the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities, and should co-operate fully and honestly with any scrutiny appropriate to their particular office.

    Honesty
    6. Members should not place themselves in situations where their honesty may be questioned, should not behave dishonestly and should on all occasions avoid the appearance of such behaviour. Members should declare any private interests relating to their public duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

    Keeping shtum is no way to treat the electorate.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Sunday, Nov 20, 2016 @ 19:23

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