5.30am, 4 June: Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson has claimed that he was ‘lied to’ by the chief executive of the city council over the status of controversial talks with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea - an allegation that she has strongly refuted.
Peterborough City Council chief executive Gillian Beasley, said: “To have my integrity questioned and to be accused of being a liar is extremely disappointing and something that I completely reject.
“It’s also frustrating that Stewart Jackson has aired his views about me on social media before allowing me the opportunity to respond to his email of 1 June explaining my position fully which I have now done.”
The row is over whether recent talks between city council officials and their counterparts at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea were formal or informal.
The discussions centred on if it was possible for the borough to effectively buy land in Peterborough on which homes could be built and which it would use to house people on its homeless register.
A number of emails between the two authorities, and which have been made public under a Freedom of Information request, show the talks had touched on land acquisition, tenure and different types of tenants.
Mr Jackson found out about the talks on February 6 this year when Sir Merrick Cockell, the then borough leader, told him ongoing discussions had recently taken place regarding housing issues with the city council.
It prompted Mr Jackson to speak to Ms Beasley on the same day to find out if Sir Merrell’s comments werre correct and whether the discussions were formal or informal.
Ms Beasley told him that the discussions were at an ‘early and unformed’ stage.
But Mr Jackson said the content of the emails showed the talks were more than informal.
He took to the social networking site Twitter to air his anger, stating: “It seems officials at highest level of @PeterboroughCC lied to me about the “informal” collaboration with Kensington and Chelsea re housing.”
And Mr Jackson claims in a letter to Ms Beasley, and which has been seen by the Peterborough Telegraph, that: “Reluctantly, I have concluded that at the very least you misled me when we spoke on February 6 and at the very worst, you deliberately lied to me.”
He adds: “I believe the honesty and integrity of senior officers in local government to be a matter of the utmost importance.”
He also states: “I spoke to you and specifically pressed you as to the veracity of this briefing and you implied and suggested very strongly that this was an informal matter which the leader of the council, Cllr Cereste, had been pursuing on a bilateral basis via the Local Government Association with Cllr Cockell and was only at a very early and unformed stage and would need to be taken forward via political debate and process and agreement from the Majority Group and the Cabinet and Full Council.
“It now transpires that you and Paul Phillipson (the city council’s executive director of operations) met the Chief Executive of RBKC, Derek Myers on 25th October (three months earlier) for a formal meeting and your officers in addition had already met in the same format on 2nd October 2012.”
In a statement released to the PT, Ms Beasley said: “Discussions with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) were, and still are, at an early and unformed stage and there has been no plan or policy developed.
“This is what I told Mr Jackson in early February when I spoke to him on this subject. At that time I had been part of one meeting with the RBKC Chief Executive which was held in October and lasted two hours.
“I have only attended one other meeting on the subject with their Chief Executive which was in February and is reflected by the emails released in the Freedom of Information request.
“The proposals have not progressed since this matter was first discussed in the media – and still represents ideas that will need considerable investigation if they are to be progressed.
“If this ever becomes a formal proposal then it will be subject to the proper decision making process of this council, which would be open for consultation and scrutiny.
“MPs would be part of this process which would include briefing Mr Jackson in the normal way at the appropriate time.
“As was stated in the Leader’s open letter in March, we promised to keep the public up to date about this potential partnership, however nothing further has happened in the past few months.”
Afterwards, Ms Beasley said that she had issued her statement to ‘set the record straight’ and looked forward to working with Mr Jackson.
Mr Jackson added: “I still feel extremely aggrieved on behalf of my constituents.
“Detailed discussions had been going on for four months and Ms Beasley did not even see fit to tell me that she was going to meet with Derek Myers, the chief executive of the borough council, the very next day.”
News of the talks was first revealed by the Peterborough Telegraph on February 13 this year and involved the creation of a partnership scheme that it was hoped might also bring investment of about £50 million to Peterborough in jobs and homes and create new cultural and sporting links.