FORMER Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council leader Andrew Finney will tonight make a public apology after he failed to declare that his wife was a member of a golf club that may profit from a multi-million-pound land deal.
The senior Conservative, who led the ruling Tory administration from May 2008 to December 2011, and is still a member of the decision-making Cabinet, has been found to have breached the councillors’ code of conduct by failing to declare a personal and prejudicial interest.
A decision report in tonight’s full council agenda states that Cllr Finney’s wife was a member of Basingstoke Golf Club when her husband voted on including the site in a blueprint of which land should be developed for housing over the next 15 years.
Previous media reports have stated that should the golf club members sell the land for housing, each individual in the private members’ club could net £130,000.
While this claim has been firmly dismissed by the golf club, in November 2011, more than 70 per cent of the 700 club members voted to offer the 43.4-hectare site in Kempshott for sale as a potential housing site.
The golf club members could gain a collective multi-million-pound windfall if their land is sold to a housing developer, once permission has been granted by the borough council.
While clearing the Oakley and North Waltham ward member of “bringing the council into disrepute”, the final decision of independent member Liz Morris, who signed off the standards investigation which also involved another independent person, said Cllr Finney “did breach the code of conduct” by failing to declare a personal and prejudicial interest – and she has recommended that he should make a public apology to tonight’s full council meeting.
Speaking to The Gazette on Tuesday, Cllr Finney said he accepts the standards report, and he had been responsible for a “lapse of judgement”.
He said that under council rules, he did not have to declare his wife’s membership on the register of member’s interests – a point that is acknowledged in the standards ruling.
Cllr Finney also stressed that his voting in Cabinet was not dictated by speculation over potential financial gains of selling the site to developers.
But he admitted: “It is up to me to make sure that I am above any potential suspicion from wherever it comes from. I failed, in this particular incidence, to ensure there could be no doubt whatsoever as to my motivations for doing anything in the council.
“I accept the determination of the report. I am disappointed that an error of judgement necessitated standards having to get involved.
“I was asked a question ‘do you think there’s a potential financial benefit?’ (by selling the golf club). I haven’t got a clue and no one’s got a clue at the moment because it depends on a whole sequence of events happening.
“The independent members conclude that as far as they were concerned, I had no pecuniary interest, which means one which implied a financial benefit for me, and I had not done anything to unduly influence the decision one way or the other.
“I have always tried to carry out my duties, whatever my position in the council, with the highest standards of propriety, and I don’t wish that to be seen to be compromised by this lapse of judgement.”
The standards investigation was launched following a complaint by Labour group leader Cllr Laura James after she learned that Cllr Finney’s wife, Lorraine, was a member of the golf club.
She said that Cllr Finney’s actions in not declaring an interest, and voting in Cabinet on October 2011 and January 2012 to include the golf club in the site selection shortlist, were “totally unacceptable”.
“I don’t think, as politicians, we should behave in this way,” said Cllr James. “I don’t think it is acceptable at all in relation to transparency.
“We are always told as councillors: ‘what would the man on the street think about this?’ I think they would be quite disgusted about it. That’s why I made the complaint – I was disgusted.”