Investigation into Northumberland County Council’s ‘unlawful’ business hits stumbling block

John Gilbert, a former chief executive of Swindon Borough Council, has been looking into Northumbria International Alliance (NIA) following the findings of the section 114 report and the Max Caller review earlier this year.

The Section 114 report by the authority’s director of finance revealed ‘unlawful expenditure’ had been identified totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The money related to the council’s participation in the Northumbria International Alliance, and the other relating to an allowance paid to the chief executive.

Northumberland County Council headquarters at County Hall, Morpeth.

However, the report stated that NIA was an “unincorporated partnership” established for a commercial purpose, breaching Section 4(2) of the Localism Act 2011.

Despite this, the council’s finance chief did not believe the authority had lost any money through the business.

Mr Gilbert said he had interviewed around 20 people since then, including past and present staff and councillors as well as senior NHS trust members.

However, he told members of the council’s audit committee that some people he had wanted to speak to had proved “reluctant”.

Mr Gilbert said: “I was appointed in mid-October to undertake this work. I have had access to over 500 documents and counting, which adds up to around 16,000 pages. There is loads of information that I have read.

“I have interviewed around 20 people. I have tried to be as comprehensive and as thorough as possible.

“There are individuals that I would have liked to have spoken to, but upon contacting them they felt either they were reluctant to take part, or felt too ill to relive some of their past experiences.”

Mr Gilbert is preparing a report for the audit committee on a number of questions they felt needed answering following the fallout from the two damning reports earlier this year.

Former council leader Peter Jackson praised Mr Gilbert’s update, and said: “What this shows to me is the benefit of getting an external expert to come and do this work – a fresh pair of eyes.”

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