Labour councillor refuses to step down after failing to declare interest in letting scheme
Labour councillor Kim Forward refused to step down as lead member for housing at the last full council meeting after Tory group leader Rob Lee said she had “deceived” the council by not declaring an interest in the Letstart Letting scheme. Nick Terdre reports.
Cllr Lee, who recently took over as leader of the Tory group, told the meeting of the full council on 26 October that Cllr Forward, who holds the housing portfolio, had “deceived” the council by not declaring that she had a property in the Letstart Letting scheme when the council agreed the renewed housing strategy on 20 July.
‘She should resign’
He said she should resign her position as lead member for housing, but according to Cllr Lee, she refused to do so, saying that she had taken legal advice. Cllr Forward’s interest had become known when she declared it at the meeting of the Oversight and Scrutiny committee on 12 September, as the draft minutes show.
The code of conduct declares that councillors should uphold the highest ethical standards, Cllr Lee told HOT, but he did not believe that this had been done. And when the housing strategy refresh came up to full council and cabinet in July, the interest should have been declared.
That did not happen, nor did Cllr Forward abstain from voting on the housing strategy motion.
“What Councillor Forward has done is both a clear breach of the code of conduct and totally unethical. She should resign at once,” Cllr Lee said.
No reply to phone and email messages
Under the Letstart Letting scheme, the council takes properties on a three-year lease, pays for their refurbishment and lets them out to social tenants. Cllr Lee says he has no objection to councillors offering properties to the scheme, but they must declare their interest from the start and stand down from discussing and voting on the management of the scheme.
HOT has attempted to ascertain Cllr Forward’s side of the story, including the gist of the legal advice she is understood to have received, but despite leaving phone and email messages, has so far received no reply.
Hassle free letting
When Letstart Letting was launched just over a year ago, Cllr Forward made clear the benefits it offered to landlords. “Letstart Letting is a new service that offers a range of housing management solutions to private landlords,” she said in a statement.
“There is no contractual arrangement between the property owner and the tenant as the council has full landlord responsibility including tenant finding, tenant sign up, rent collection, some repairs and terminating tenancies…
“Throughout the tenancy, the [Letstart Letting agency] team will deal with the day-to-day care of the landlord’s property and will take every reasonable measure to ensure that it’s protected and treated well…This really is hassle free letting.”
No more properties being taken on
So far 49 properties are in the scheme, accommodating both single people and households with children, according to Kevin Boorman, the council’s marketing and major projects manager. “The accommodation provided through the Social Lettings Agency has been a key element in our strategic aims to minimise homelessness and improve access to affordable housing,” he told HOT. For the time being no more properties are being taken on as the council is awaiting the results of a central government review of funding arrangements for such schemes.
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