This article has now been updated.
In July, I wrote an article Frequent Flyer Freer detailing our glorious leader’s two trips to Boston and San Francisco attending a conference organised by BT. The cost to the taxpayer was more than £5,000 as Cllr Freer decided to fly business class on the San Francisco leg.
Whether this was a wise use of public money or a meaningless junket is a matter of opinion. What cannot be disputed is that the trip was authorised by means of a Delegated Powers Report (DPR) issued by the soon-to-be-departed Chief Executive Leo Boland. This was arguably an abuse of the democratic process because, under the council’s constitution, Officer DPRs cannot be called in for examination by a scrutiny committee.
A possible reason for bypassing scrutiny has now come to light. In a world-wide exclusive, I can now reveal that Mike Freer did not attend the Boston conference alone. The council has admitted, albeit reluctantly, that Leo Boland also flew to Boston at a cost of £1,548.60.
Whether Mr Boland should have attended the conference is, again, a matter of opinion. What is utterly disgraceful, however, is the fact that the council tried to keep this information secret from the public. I have spoken to several Conservative councillors over the last few days and they were all completely oblivious to the fact that our Leo had gone to America with Mike Freer.
When the Tories won control in 2002, the then leader Victor Lyon promised “an open and honest administration”. Once again, that promise seems to have been broken. When will backbench Conservative councillors wake up to the fact that their leader treats them like mushrooms by keeping them in the dark?
If you read the DPR it states:-
This report seeks approval for the Leader of the Council to travel to the United States during 2007 as a participant of the BT Vital Vision Programme.
Note that the report seeks approval for Mike Freer only. No mention that Leo Boland is attending. More damning, however, is the statement:-
Opportunities of this quality for leadership development are rare and were the Leader unable to participate then a valuable development resource funded by the private sector would have been foregone.
This is patently not so. If Mike Freer had stayed in Barnet, the ‘valuable development resource’ would not have been foregone as Mr Boland was there. The public have been misled by this statement.
Participation in the BT Vital Vision Programme will enhance the council’s international reputation.
Which has no doubt been enhanced further by our clever decision to invest £28 million in failing Icelandic banks.
It is anticipated that all of Barnet’s residents will benefit from the Leader’s participation in this programme.
There are three key questions which require answering:
- Why were we not told at the time that Mr Boland was also going to America?
- Was his travel authorised and, if so, by whom? The DPR set a budget of £5,000 which Mike Freer exceeded on his own. What budget was used to pay Mr Boland’s costs?
- Was there a conflict of interest in Mr Boland issuing the DPR authorising Mike Freer to travel, given that he failed to declare that he was also attending?
This is yet another sad day for democracy in Barnet.
Update: 21.11.08 In response to a comment posted below, I am adding another question to the list:
4. Why was it necessary for two people to attend the same conference?