Giving council business contracts to companies Conservative Central Bedfordshire councillors have shares in would be “crazy”, a meeting heard.
The topic was highlighted by Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny at a Central Bedfordshire Council meeting (22 April 2021) when he singled out Conservative Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon’s declaration of interests.
Concerns resurfaced at a social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee meeting four days later (26 April 2021).
Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey referred to material on social media over the Dunstable health and social care hub project and CBC’s procurement of it.
She said: “I have faith in the local authority’s procurement and that proper procedures have been followed.
“But the negative statements on Facebook are really detracting from the good work that’s going on.
“I would be grateful for clarification on how the procurement processes were arranged and that no undue favour was given to any members’ interests.”
Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Eugene Ghent acknowledged: “There has been a lot of negative publicity.
“But this is a minority of people who’ve nothing better to do than this,” he explained.
“I can really utterly assure you that all of our procurements are followed to the letter.
“Willmott Dixon is one of several companies which do many projects for us.
“I can name a dozen other firms which bid successfully for projects, and we don’t question those.
“Councillor Dixon has no impact or effect on any discussions around construction with this council.
“But please be assured we don’t do things like that,” added councillor Ghent, who’s the executive member for housing and assets. “It’s just crazy.”
Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, who chairs the committee, said: “There are excruciatingly tight and transparent processes around this kind of matter.
“It’s regrettable when these situations are sometimes exploited by a small minority and I’m grateful to those of us who can see it’s all being done properly.
“We should think about the bigger picture and what’s best for the public, and not have our own little internal attacks.”
Councillor Dixon’s biography on CBC’s website contains his personal declarations, after his re-election in 2019.
Submitted in May and published in July, it reads: “Shareholder in Willmott Dixon’s parent company, with whom CBC contract various property and construction services.”
There are subsequent entries for September 2019 and January 2020 only mentioning his non-pecuniary interests or hospitality he has received.
He was questioned about this at full council by councillor Zerny, who commented: “I know in your most recent register of interests that you make no mention of any securities, shares to the layman, held by you or your spouse.
“I assume this to be some kind of oversight. Do you, as per your register of interests in 2019, still own shares in Willmott Dixon?” he asked.
Councillor Dixon, who’s the executive member for sustainability and transformation, replied: “Yes, I own shares in Willmott Dixon.
“Well, I don’t actually own shares in Willmott Dixon, if you want to be technical about it.
“As I declared in my register of interests I own shares in Hardwicke Investments Limited, which is the parent company of Willmott Dixon.
“So, yes, I’ve always declared that. I’ve never hidden from that fact.”
Councillor Zerny said: “Councillor Dixon may do well to check his most recent register of interests online. It doesn’t mention that.
“Not all members will be aware, this council has spent with Willmott Dixon £84,527,056 in the last ten years alone.
“I think it’s really important this sort of thing is made public to protect the reputation of councillors and this council.
“Councillor Dixon, approximately how much of Willmott Dixon, or its parent company or any associated companies do you own?” he asked.
Councillor Dixon responded: “Over a ten-year period that would have changed.
“Off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you. I wonder where you’re coming from councillor Zerny.”
Councillor Zerny added: “You may wonder that, but I ask the questions. I’d really appreciate a full answer in due course.”