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Sandwell councillors' dealings 'black as muck' - claim

By Marion Brennan | Wednesbury | Politics | Published:

An award-winning voluntary group has been ordered to pay back £7,000 after it was reported to have used Wednesbury Town Hall rent-free but charged people entry to some events.

Wednesbury Celebrates is now having to reimburse Sandwell Council after an audit committee claimed the group had broken the rules.

The focus of the investigation has been the involvement of Councillors Ian and Olwen Jones with the group.

The two are alleged to have suggested funding bids for Wednesbury Celebrates that could have led to ‘financial advantage being gained by a close family member and their partner.’

Although the council said it has no powers to investigate that allegation.

The couple ‘totally refute’ the claims, calling it ‘a political witch-hunt.’

Peter Farrow, head of audit, described the system of booking the town hall – which should be £51-an-hour – as ‘very informal’, adding that the casual, unofficial way the council had conducted dealings with Wednesbury Celebrates had tarnished the authority’s good name.

He said: “It doesn’t look good for the council’s reputation.”

Darren Carter, Sandwell’s director of resources, told the audit committee, charging entrance fees to events was against council policy, as was using council premises as a business address.

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The committee argued it should be made clear that this type of community activity is undertaken in councillors’ personal capacity and not their civic roles.

A report from the committee said: “It is clear Wednesbury Celebrates has a strong level of involvement from a small number of elected members.

"This is similar to other community and voluntary organisations where elected members may also play key roles.

"However all such activities are undertaken in their own personal capacity rather than as part of their role as councillors and they are not acting as representatives of the council when performing them.”

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Wednesbury Celebrates, which won the Queen’s Award in 2015, has received numerous council grants since it was set up six years ago.

Wednesbury South councillor Mrs Jones was a former chair while her husband had no formal role. Neither are now involved in the group.

Councillor Ian Jones strongly denied the allegations. He said people were not charged an entrance fee for the Wednesbury Town Hall events but invited to make donations.

“This is a political witch-hunt” he said.

Mr Jones was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Wragge Report.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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