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Call to discuss 'rogue councils' in parliament

Thursday, 29 February 2024 15:21

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Ian Liddell Grainger MP (image courtesy: House of Commons)

Ian Liddell-Grainger lays into Mid Devon District

Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has criticised Mid Devon for sending letters to three former councillors accusing them of alleged data breaches.

The Conservative politician, who is to contest the new Tiverton and Minehead seat at the next election, asked for a debate on “rogue councils” during a debate in Westminster.

He said that Mid Devon District Council had now “threatened its former leaders with legal action for disputing what has gone on with 3 Rivers.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger  continued: “There has been a lack of scrutiny and a lack of accountability,” he said. This is millions of pounds, and not thousands.”

The comments come as Barry Warren, Bob Deed and Christine Daw all received letters from Mid Devon District Council about a “serious matter concerning your handling of confidential data.”

The letters said the individuals “may have committed a data breach” and asked them to delete any confidential information and show the council proof of this.

The letters later state that failure to comply “may result in legal actions,” including fines or other penalties.

Mr Warren, formerly an independent councillor, led the authority for three months in 2023, taking over from Mr Deed who resigned in February last year after holding the position for four years.

Ms Daw quit as a Conservative party member the same month, but retained her cabinet position as an independent until the election last May when she didn’t stand for re-election.

The trio have all been critical of 3 Rivers Developments, the council-owned property company which is now in the process of being closed down, and the alleged data breaches include documents linked to the failed housebuilder.

Mr Liddell-Grainger added: “Can we please have a debate in government time about councils’ responsibility for dealing with situations that have gone wrong, and not suing their former colleagues who are trying to do their job?”

Mid Devon District Council recently conducted a ‘lessons learned’ review of 3 Rivers, highlighting 10 aspects it would do differently if it launched another wholly owned business again.

Some members of the public criticised this, claiming that the councillors undertaking the review didn’t have long enough to carry out their work and that the group’s terms of reference should have been free of constraint.

The authority has in the past also paid external consultants, including Devon Audit Partnership, to assess the operation and viability of the firm.

Two reports in 2020 outlined 33 recommendations to improve it, and these were approved by the full council.

In relation to the letter the council sent to the three former councillors, the authority said it takes its legal responsibilities as a data controller “extremely seriously”.

A spokesperson added: “It is a matter of some regret that the council has had to write to a small number of former councillors reminding them of the need to comply with data management practices.

“However, it is important that the council takes appropriate action to ensure the effective management of data in accordance with our policies.”

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