A Fenland MP has demanded answers from the chief executive of Peterborough City Council after receiving whistleblower evidence about one of her employees.
Steve Barclay has written an open letter to Gillian Beasley about a “number of damning accusations” allegedly made by council employee Neil Darwin in his role as the chief executive of the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Mr Darwin is currently on secondment from the council to work at the LEP which uses taxpayers’ money to fund major infrastructure projects and push economic growth.
Mr Barclay, the MP for North East Cambridgeshire, said: “It is the job of a Member of Parliament to raise questions on behalf of constituents, particularly when millions of pounds of public money is involved.”
The whistleblower evidence submitted to Mr Barclay allegedly showed that Mr Darwin had said “a senior Peterborough business figure is delusional” and that “the Government bullied councils over accepting devolution.”
Further evidence is said to allege that Mr Darwin accused Cambridgeshire County Council (where Mrs Beasley is also chief executive) and Cambridge City Council of lying to the LEP board.
In the letter to Mrs Beasley, Mr Barclay said that the National Audit Office had confirmed there was written evidence provided by a whistleblower which alleged Mr Darwin had made the comments.
Among a number of questions he is asking of the council chief executive, he wrote: “Given the significant impact decisions made by the LEP has on my constituents, and in the light of written evidence provided to me by the whistleblower, I would be grateful if you could confirm whether Mr Darwin accepts that he has made such comments?”
Mr Barclay added: “If he is unable to deny having made such serious accusations, please can you confirm your response as an employer?”
The MP also asked Mrs Beasley to confirm that Mr Darwin would not receive a severance package “above his contractual terms” should he leave his city council position, or be prevented from speaking about his time at the council or LEP.
In response, Mrs Beasley said: “I have received a letter from Steve Barclay MP and am urgently considering its contents. I can confirm that Neil Darwin – chief executive of the Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough LEP – apologised for the impression he gave at a meeting in January that an officer at Cambridgeshire County Council had not dealt with a matter concerning Wisbech Rail for more than a year, and made a full apology to that officer.
“I had expected Mr Darwin to clarify the matter to Steve Barclay at the same time as this apology was made.
“I am unable to make any comment on further statements Mr Darwin is alleged to have made, which were passed to Mr Barclay by a whistleblower.
“However, as a matter of urgency I am seeking more information about these allegations so that they can be looked into thoroughly.
“I also can’t comment on anyone’s specific employment terms as these are confidential to the individual – but as with any member of staff employed by me, if allegations are raised about them or their conduct I always ensure that they are fully and comprehensively investigated.”
According to the whistleblower, Mr Darwin also allegedly said that the LEP was threatened by a Norfolk MP, and that companies have been threatened directly by MPs that they might no longer win government contracts.
A spokesperson for the LEP said: “Regarding Mr Barclay’s latest accusations about a member of the LEP team, we will not comment on matters relating to an individual’s employment terms as these are confidential to the individual.
“Suffice to say that any substantiated and evidenced complaints about a member of the LEP team would be handled by the appropriate HR process and be compliant with current employment law.”
Mr Darwin was economic regeneration and community regeneration manager at the council before he joined the LEP on secondment in June 2014 as director of enterprise and skills.
In March 2015 he became the LEP’s chief executive. The secondment is on an ongoing basis and the council has not filled that post.
City council leader Councillor John Holdich denied that councils had been bullied by the Government into accepting a devolution deal. Devolution has created a new county-wide combined authority which will be led by an elected mayor from May.
The LEP will have a representative on the combined authority alongside the leaders of the seven biggest Cambridgeshire councils.
Cllr Holdich said: “We were certainly not bullied into it because all councils had to agree to it. In fact, it was the other way round – we were putting pressure on government to improve the deal.”
‘Some concerns are genuine’
On March 24 Mr Barclay wrote an open letter to the National Audit Office making a number of accusations about the LEP, including one that there were conflicts of interest between board members and a “small number of property developers.”
Peterborough City Council leader Cllr John Holdich, who is on the LEP’s board, claimed not all of Mr Barclay’s accusations were accurate, but he added: “Some of his concerns are very genuine as the governance process of the LEP was not strong enough. But since he has been raising these issues a tremendous amount has been done to make the governance of the board a lot more robust.”
The LEP said board members are asked to complete an annual submission outlining their interests outside of their LEP role for audit purposes, and that it would be happy to answer any further questions. It added: “The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP is compliant with the Government’s Assurance Framework.”