Assessing corruption risks in local government planning.
Corruption Risks In Planning Decisions. Through our research for this report, we identified five key corruption risks relating to councillors’ involvement in major planning decisions. Opaque lobbying? Lobbying is when interested parties put forward their views to councillors and officers, which is a healthy part of the planning decision-making process. However, when done behind closed doors and through privileged access, it can lead to the perception or reality that big decisions are distorted in favour of powerful, private interests.
Examples include: A £200 million+ development in Liverpool under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), with no minutes taken at meetings between the developers, councillors and their officials. And in this context, the Beacon Park Golf Course debacle threw up a classic case of no minutes taken between developers and officers. In August 2017 it was confirmed by a WLBC Director that despite a previous denial in writing of such a meeting, a Deputy Director of WLBC DID meet Jonathan Russell Snellgrove of 22 Rockery Lane, Leeds LS18 the Director of Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd which company is the major financial beneficiary of the enormous landfill operation at Beacon Park Golf Course.
The factual statement confirms “In your Review Findings you state YOU “can find no evidence of any written or recorded dates, minutes or reports from any meeting with officers and Mr Snellgrove in relation to the “potential remodelling works at Beacon Park Golf Course”.
“But you CAN advise that “Mr ****** recalls a recent on-site meeting with Mr ******* from Serco/West Lancashire County Leisure Ltd (perhaps you meant West Lancashire Community Leisure Ltd?) regarding the re-modelling works at which Mr Snellgrove was in attendance but after introductions took no part in the meeting. There are no minutes or reports produced as a result of that on-site meeting”. I’m sorry to appear pedantic about this matter which is extremely important to residents and council tax payers of West Lancashire, but your answer in your “Review Findings” paragraph 1 is directly contradicted by your answer in paragraph 2, as the meeting you DO mention was “regarding the re-modelling works”. Isn’t what Mr ****** tells you recorded by you as evidence?”
Bribery and excessive gifts and hospitality bribery is the offering, promising, giving, accepting or soliciting of an advantage as an inducement for an action that is illegal, unethical or a breach of trust. This is a criminal offence under the Bribery Act 2010.
Indicators of potential bribery include excessive hospitality and curiously timed political donations. Examples include: A £500 million+ development in Tower Hamlets under investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) over alleged solicitation of bribes for councillors. A planning Chair in Westminster council forced to resign over excessive gifts and hospitality worth over £13,000. A developer giving a series of political donations to the local branches of a political party around the same time in which they were applying for planning permission within the same local area.
Conflicts of interest? Conflicts of interest occur where a holder of public office is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their private interests. We found 32 councillors across 24 councils holding critical decision-making positions in their local planning system whilst also working for developers.
Abuse of the revolving door. The term ‘revolving door’ refers to the movement of individuals between positions of public office and jobs in the private sector, in either direction. Moving through the revolving door can be beneficial to both sides. However, it can also undermine trust in government, because of the potential for conflicts of interest.
We found at least 120 councillors moved between public office and private employment in the planning sector covering 75 local authorities over the past decade. Weak oversight combined with big decisions almost encourages misconduct. We found councils often have inadequate oversight to ensure probity in the planning process.
Are we surprised?