EXCLUSIVE: We reveal how internal delays stalled council’s probe into allegations against councillors

SENIOR officers of Fenland District Council offered no explanation today as to why they failed to carry out an instruction to advertise for a �1,000-a-year independent member to join its conduct committee.

Their failure has meant a string of complaints against town and district councillors- some trivial, some serious- cannot now be heard until well into the New Year.

Even an allegation that council leader Alan Melton used the term ‘tosser’ in front of school children must wait until after Christmas to be properly investigated.

An inquiry by this newspaper has revealed that when the conduct committee - which replaced the former standards committee-, met for the first time on July 27 it instructed officers to recruit two independent members.

It was agreed that:

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1: Two independent people are appointed, with one acting as a deputy to allow for “situations where there are conflicts of interests or absences”.

2: A recruitment pack would be widely circulated.

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3: Posts would be advertised in the local press and interviews carried out by the chairman and/or officers and committee to find the main independent candidate.

However we can reveal that Alan Pain, corporate director and monitoring officer and Ian Hunt, the chief solicitor and deputy monitoring officer, failed to place the advertisements.

Indeed the council admitted today that the only advertisements for the vacancy were placed on their own website but did not appear for four months -until November 22 and with a closing date of November 30.

No one applied.

The committee met today and planned to consider a raft of complaints but Councillor Fred Yeulett put the brakes on debate until the independent appointments are made.

“Until everything is in place we should not go ahead and put the council at risk,” he said.

The Localism Act 2011 says the committee must consult with an independent person, who would have no voting rights, but be able to “support, advise and provide comments to the committee.”

Mr Pain said today that a fresh advert was already being prepared, and the search would be widened.

Other complaints deferred were against Councillors Martin Curtis, Pop Jolley, and an allegation against three March town council members, Mayor of March Councillor Jan French, and Councillors Kit Owen and Andrew Pugh.

The complaint against Cllr Curtis is in regard to Whittlesey supermarket applications and his use of social network sites; and the complaint against Cllr Jolley is in connection with an alleged business association with a developer involved in the supermarket issue.

The three town councillors are accused of misconduct over the appointment of the March town crier.

The committee decided that a separate complaint against Councillor Jan French should be investigated by an external solicitor, once an independent person has been appointed.

The complaint against Cllr French - which dates back to April - alleges she acted inappropriately over a planning enforcement issue.

Cllr Yeulett told the committee: “We are dealing with people’s reputations and it is most important to move this along.”

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