It’s a cover up’
PUBLISHED: 14:38 06 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:00 25 August 2010
RESIDENTS are demanding an independent inquiry into a disgraced former council leader s credit card abuse and have called for someone to carry the can after a systematic failure of the local authority. Members of Bexley Pensioners Forum called for an i
RESIDENTS are demanding an independent inquiry into a disgraced former council leader's credit card abuse and have called for someone to carry the can after a "systematic failure" of the local authority.
Members of Bexley Pensioners Forum called for an independent investigation on Tuesday into how former Bexley leader Ian Clement, from Dartford, wracked up personal expenses of £1,220 on his council credit card.
An internal review is to take place this month but it has been called into question as one of the councillors sitting on the committee, Joe Pollard, was treated to a meal on Mr Clement's Greater London Authority card when he was Deputy Mayor of London, before he stood down in June.
Mr Pollard is currently 'taking advice' as to whether he should sit on the Audit Committee, according to Bexley council. Elwyn Bryant, of Salisbury Road, Bexley, branded the decision by councillors to hold an internal review a "cover up".
He said: "Somebody has got to go here. There was a systematic failure of the council, allowing Mr Clement to get away with what he did.
"Did the auditors or line managers know, what did they say and did anybody further along say it's okay?"
Mr Clement stepped down from his £127,000 post as London deputy mayor in May after it was revealed he lied about expense claims on his Greater London Authority card.
The scandal led Bexley borough to release details of Mr Clement's council credit card showing 10 personal items, including stays at Excelsion Hotel Ernst costing £364 and a £513 stay at the Park Plaza Hotel, over a five-month period.
Both the outgoing chief executive Nick Johnson and the current chief executive, Will Tuckley (then designate), received separate lunches at central London restaurant Le Pont de la Tour on Mr Clement's credit card - costing £86 and £109 respectively.
Mr Tuckley, who became chief executive on March 31 2008, claimed the meeting on February 1 that year was to discuss his new role but when Mr Clement insisted on paying, was "unaware at the time that he used a council purchasing card to do so."
Mr Bryant said: "[Mr Clement] was using this card for his own expenditure in clear contravention of the rules so why wasn't he stopped?
"I find it unbelievable that nobody knew anything about this.
"The residents of Bexley deserve an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened."
A motion to have three non-council members on a Members Allowances Investigatory Committee was put forward by councillor Chris Ball last month.
It was also suggested that members who benefited from Mr Clement's expenditure on Bexley and GLA credit cards should pay the money back.
Both were rejected in favour of an internal audit.
Bexley Pensioners Forum member Peter Gussman, of Old Farm Avenue, Sidcup, witnessed the council's vote and said: "Not surprisingly the majority of Conservative councillors rejected Chris Ball's motion.
"But then to my utter shock, Chris Ball and his fellow Labour councillors voted for an amendment that made it an internal audit only."
Bexley council was asked by the Times who bore ultimate responsibility for signing off high-priced receipts.
A council spokesperson replied: "Expenditure on Mr Clement's purchasing card was subjected to a checking process. This was done monthly.
"We understand from Mr Clement's office diaries that he was attending meetings of London Councils, where he was an Executive Member. The choice of restaurant was a matter for Mr Clement as leader of the council."
When asked why Mr Clement was never disciplined for using the credit card to purchase personal items between December 2007 and May 2008, which he later paid off, the council spokesperson said: "We were informed that the January 2008 item was the result of a mistake by Mr Clement. Reimbursement was sought for the April and June statements and the card was returned in May 2008.
"The Audit Committee will be debating a full forensic audit of the expenditure in an open forum that allows any member of the public to have access to the information or to attend the meeting.
"An independent investigation would not have been constitutional and would not have been as open and transparent.