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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Councils warned over 'power abuse'
Gillian Merron MP
Gillian Merron MP: "Decisive action must be taken"
The government has pledged to intervene if councils and councillors misuse their position and abuse their power.

Junior cabinet office minister Christopher Leslie said action would be taken against unscrupulous authorities after an investigation at Tory-controlled Lincolnshire County Council.

Authority leader Jim Speechley came under fire after an independent audit investigation into abuse of power and misuse of public money, it was claimed.

In a Westminster Hall debate, Gillian Merron Labour MP for Lincoln, said Mr Speechley, who has since been re-elected as leader by councillors, illegally spent taxpayers' money, bullied officers and misused his powers as leader.

Councillor Jim Speechley
Jim Speechley was criticised in a report

"Decisive action to right the wrongs of guilty councillors must be taken," she warned ministers.

Mr Speechley's re-election was the "crux" of the issue, she added, demanding: "How, indeed, can a leader of a council be found guilty by the council's own independent auditor, be blamed for illegal use of council taxpayers' money, bullying and systematic abuse of power - but still remain in post?"

There had been "no apology, no recognition of unacceptable conduct and no change at the top".

Voters had been "taken for a ride by unscrupulous county councillors", Ms Merron said.

Mr Leslie said the government would be "prepared to intervene" if councils failed in their public duties.

'Vigorous action'

"Misconduct by councils, when it occurs, harms not only the community they are elected to serve but the wider reputation of government as a whole across the whole of the country."

He added: "We expect as a government all public services ... to uphold the highest standards of integrity and carry out all their duties."

In regard to Lincolnshire County Council, Mr Leslie said the "ball is in the council's court" and it was now the job of the authority to show it was "prepared to take vigorous action".

The government and auditor would be monitoring the council "very closely", he added.


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05 Dec 01 | England
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