On 1950’s television, it was called the $64,000 Question – but on Monday night in Boston’s council chamber it was the £1 Million Question.
To try to solve the mystery of the Loan That No-One Conveniently Knows Very Much About, a public question was posed to finance portfolio holder Aaron ‘Frank’ Spencer.
It followed the surprising discovery after a Freedom of Information request of 51 items – even though it was always claimed nothing more than a receipt remained.
The questioner asked where these documents have been all these years and when they were found, and as they named people with knowledge of the loan who were still alive and contactable, how investigations were going to give the answers that have been sought over the last 25 years?
Councillor Spencer replied: “The council has always held documents in relation to the loan. The documents provided came to light during an archive and disposal project when the Council was clearing out old paper files during November 2015.
“All councillors were made aware of this at the time so it is perhaps not so remarkable but right and proper that they were provided as a response to your FOI request.
“The documents only support what the council already knew about the loan and that was reported to the council on this matter in 2010.
“I understand the chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee has already agreed to undertake a review of the loan and this will be reported on in the near future.”
As we reported on Monday the committee chairman mentioned – Councillor Doctor Gordon Gregory – decided to investigate the loan affair further because he found the lack of evidence “odd and suspicious.”
This sounds less like an inquiry instigated by a council concerned at an apparently unapproved or recorded loan at usurious interest rates which will cost taxpayers £6 million by the repayment date, and more like an Indiana Jones style search for the Writers of the Lost Cheque.
The questioner’s response to Councillor Spencer was that although his reply suggested that the file was sitting in a cabinet gathering dust for a number of years with no one knowing where it was or whether it even existed, documents had been added to it from the date the loan was taken out in 1991 to as late as February 2014.
“To me this suggests that at least one person within the Municipal Buildings knew where the file was and what is worrying, kept quiet about it when questions were asked.
“Are you not in the slightest concerned that over the last 25 years it appears officers have withheld these documents from councillors and the public? Does it suggest there is something to hide?”
Apparently Councillor Spencer’s response was to mutter something equivalent to the parliamentary “I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave earlier,” shrug and sit down.
Incidentally, the supplementary question to Councillor Spencer was made longer by three interventions from the Mayor, Councillor Richard Austin, demanding brevity. A fourth interruption came from Mrs Mayor claiming that a response to her husband was disrespectful.
The question took well under minute to read, so Mr Austin’s comments seemed superfluous – not to say rude.
In future, it would be preferable if the Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson of Boston politics realised that respect is a two-way street
We’ll be talking more about the discourtesy of councillors tomorrow.
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