Tory distances himself from report

PUBLISHED: 18:14 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:06 03 July 2010

THE Tory parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth has distanced himself from an Audit Commission report slamming Brentwood Council's performance while he was leader.

THE Tory parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth has distanced himself from an Audit Commission report slamming Brentwood Council's performance while he was leader.

The damning report revealed serious mismanagement and incompetency in the council's accountancy procedures, and the situation was deemed so bad the Audit Commission would not sign off the authority's accounts for 2008/09.

The report also stated the council did not have adequate arrangements in place to secure value for money for residents, and did not provide evidence to support millions of pounds worth of transactions.

As a result, the commission issued a “qualified disclaimer opinion,” meaning the council's accounts were in too great a mess to sort out and would not be audited for the last financial year. Instead, the council would be allowed to focus its efforts on the future.

But Brandon Lewis, who is to challenge MP Tony Wright for his seat at the next general Election, said the audit referred to a period of time before changes to the council's management structure instituted by his Conservative administration were able to take effect.

In particular, he said the report criticised the performance of officers, rather than councillors, as far back as 2001, but the changes to personnel in the council's management team were not introduced until 2004 and would not have had an effect for another four or five years.

Mr Lewis, who was a Brentwood councillor between 1998 and 2009 and leader from 2002, said despite the report's findings the number of Tory councillors had increased during his time in charge, from nine in 2002 to 28 in councillors.

He added further evidence of the Conservatives' popularity came from an Ipsos MORI poll which found that 90pc of the Brentwood electorate were satisfied with the performance of the Tory administration.

Mr Lewis, who resigned from the council in March, listed the main achievements of his leadership as helping to get a new cinema for Brentwood and keeping council tax increases low.

But in 2006 he was selected by the Yarmouth Conservative Party to stand as the constituency's candidate after going through an application and interview process and had to make a choice over whether to continue as Brentwood leader or focus solely on becoming MP for Yarmouth.

“Nobody in Brentwood ever raised any concerns over me continuing as leader while focusing on becoming MP for Yarmouth, but I took the view that we were about a year away from the General Election and I was asking the people of Yarmouth to make a commitment to me and put their faith in me.”

The businessman runs Woodlands schools at Great Warley and Hutton Manor in Essex.

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