posted 3 Dec 2012, 12:01 by Westover Labour

After a painstaking investigation by the  Labour Group  into  rumours that Sedgemoor District and Somerset County Council had paid or waived part of Tescos planning fees for their proposed Northgate megastore, Corporate Director Bob Brown finally cracked under interrogation from BBC Somerset breakfast DJ Matt Faulkner and admitted that £20,200 of the planning fee had not been paid by Tesco. 

Under further pressure he revealed that it was in fact Somerset County Council who paid. For the remainder of the day until now Somerset have failed to respond to requests to comment.

The investigation started when after a month of Tescos application laying in SDC's in-tray, there was no movement towards registration and so Labour councillors raised the issue at Full Council (October 24th). Being met with 'technical reasons' by the Acting Monitoring officer Steve Hellard, Labour pursued the issue tenaciously over the next few weeks.

At a meeting between the Labour Group and the Corporate Directors, Chief Executive Kerry Rickards first admitted that public funds had contributed to the payment and said that this had been arranged between SDC and SCC  and that he was proud of his own role taking only '3 seconds to make the decision'. 

'explaining the facts'

On 21st November when a delegation of senior Labour councillors met with the Monitoring Officer to clear the way to making the allegations public and bringing them before Members  at the next Corporate Scrutiny meeting on December 3rd, the chairman -Westover councillor Brian Smedley (above, talking to Press) was prevented from wording the agenda item as he wished and instructed that the agenda item could not review the payment and compel the Chief Executives attendance but merely ask the committee to discuss and vote for a separate meeting to consider 'adding the item to the committees workload'. 

When the Councillor decided to break the story and issue confidential papers to all members informing them of his version of the facts of the case the Chief Executive reacted angrily with a strongly worded email to all councillors criticising the Westover member. A day later Mr Rickards had calmed down and written a second email to everyone explaining the facts of the case .

'Subsidising a Multinational'

On Monday morning (3rd Dec) Cllr Smedley appeared on BBC Somerset to make the allegations that public money had been spent subsidising a multinational and neither members nor the public had  been kept informed. An hour later on the same programme Bob Brown (left)  (in place of Kerry Rickards)  appeared and admitted the same but stressing that it was Somerset who actually paid Tesco's  outstanding fee.

Brian Smedley said "We are very pleased that SDC have now come clean about the payment. It's wrong that Public money should be subsidising a Multinational corporation and especially at a time when the County Council are asking people to accept  millions of pounds of cutbacks. "