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COMMENT - TORIES MUST GET A GRIP ON LINCOLNSHIRE BULLY

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The ethical governance report on Lincolnshire CC published this week exposes even further the dysfunctional nature ...
The ethical governance report on Lincolnshire CC published this week exposes even further the dysfunctional nature of politics at the council.

Jim Speechley, the leader of a council which has been Conservative since its creation in 1974 bar five years in the 1990s, has gained notoriety after a string of controversial moves by Lincolnshire.

These included plans for an

all-Tory standards committee - later dropped - and an unlawful£150,000 payment to a business which diverted its lorries from a Lincs village. There was a police investigation, later dropped, into plans for a bypass. Police are still investigating the way the council awarded its national grid for learning contract.

A report by auditors KPMG revealed Mr Speechley was a bully and ruled by a 'climate of fear', resulting in the inevitable tag 'bully boy' by the local newspaper.

In a successful but relatively isolated county which ploughs its own furrow, the ruling group have come to believe they are Lincolnshire's natural leaders - when Labour got in during the 1990s they took it as a personal affront from voters.

But the rest of the world was astonished when the Conservative group re-elected Mr Speechley as their leader a few weeks ago despite all that had gone on.

The KPMG report asked Lincolnshire to commission the ethical governance report. This underlined the findings of the original audit, suggesting Mr Speechley treated the council as his 'personal fief', intimidated those not compliant with his wishes, created a 'frightening' atmosphere and sought to sack the very person staff found most reassuring - the chief executive.

From the late 1980s the Labour Party established a reputation for swift, if occasionally rough, justice for councillors it felt were damaging its reputation.

Conservative Central Office should have the courage to intervene - for its own sake and to prevent further damage to the reputation of local government as a whole. Its failure to get a grip

on its Lincolnshire councillors

sits oddly with its oft-repeated claim to be the party of local government.

The vital role of the scrutiny and standards regimes under the new political structures has never been more starkly outlined than by this ethical governance report. If scrutiny is not well resourced, and scrupulously conducted, ethical governance reports will become a burgeoning market. Lessons need to be drawn from this mess.

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