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TORIES DITHER AS SECOND REPORT HAMMERS LINCS

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By reporter Joe Gill ...
By reporter Joe Gill

The Conservative Party may intervene in Lincolnshire CC after an ethical governance report found leader Jim Speechley frightened and victimised staff, treated the council as his 'personal fief' and planned to sack the chief executive.

After standing back for months, the national party has conceded a 'serious response' is needed, and it may have to intervene if local Conservatives do not.

The report backs an investigation by auditors KPMG, which found Mr Speechley abused his power, acted unlawfully and intimidated officers (LGC, 10 May).

Report author Rodney Brooke, appointed by the council as an independent person in line with the auditors' recommendations, found a 'complete lack of trust' between the leader and chief executive David Bowles.

Mr Speechley had 'canvassed the possibility' of sacking chief executive David Bowles.'These hostile feelings severely damaged the ethical governance of the authority as well as its effectiveness,' the report said.

But Mr Bowles was an 'iconic' figure in the eyes of fearful officers, who regarded him as their guarantee of security, it adds.

The report said: '[Mr Speechley's] determination to impose his will on the officer cadre has led him to circumvent the proper procedures. Even under the leader and cabinet system, the county council is not a personal fief.'

Mr Brooke affirmed KPMG's finding that the leader misused the delegated authority of officers to avoid taking important matters to committee. Mr Speechley also bypassed senior managers to instruct junior officials directly.

Mr Speechley was 'prepared to threaten officers if they did not carry out his instructions', the investigation found.

During a restructuring, Mr Speechley himself interviewed staff 'down to the clerical level', which junior staff found 'frightening'. But there was slim evidence other councillors behaved badly. Most staff were untouched by the problems.

Deputy leader Ian Croft (Con) said: 'I shall continue to support Mr Speechley because he is a man of considerable ability.'

Tory local government spokesman Eric Pickles said disciplinary action would 'clearly be an important part of the council's response' to the report.

If the local party does not do enough the national party will consider intervening, he added.

Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers director general David Clark said the situation was

'tragic'.

Lincolnshire hit the headlines following attempts to install an all-Tory standards committee (LGC, 22 December 2001), and unlawful pay-offs to a local business that diverted its lorries away from a local village (LGC, 10 May). Its National Grid for Learning contract is being investigated by the police (LGC, 24 May).

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