Leicestershire County Council leader David Parsons censured over cash claims
Leicestershire County Council leader David Parsons has been found to have breached the councillors' code of conduct over his travel expenses.
The Tory politician yesterday appeared before County Hall's standards committee facing allegations he kept hold of money paid to him for trips to Europe which he should have reimbursed to the authority.
At one point he had more than £5,400 sitting in his bank account which should already have been paid to the council.
The committee found he had breached five conditions of the code of conduct and strongly censured him.
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During the hearing, Coun Parsons offered an "unreserved apology" for his actions – but resisted calls for his resignation.
Standards Committee chairman Martin Caple told Coun Parsons that not reimbursing the money was "a very serious matter".
He told him: "We feel that as a councillor, and particularly leader of the council, and chairman of EMC, you should have set an example and reimbursed the money as soon as possible."
The issue came to light in October, after a whistle-blower contacted the council's chief executive John Sinnott.
Mr Parsons is chairman of East Midlands Councils and also a member of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) – which comments on European policy.
He was entitled to claim travel expenses while on CoR business. These were paid directly to him and he should have passed the cash on to East Midlands Councils via Leicestershire County Council.
Yesterday, the committee found he failed to reimburse County Hall until after the allegations came to light.
Mr Caple said: "The fact that you made no payment between September 2010 and October 2011 means you gained financially in terms of cash flow."
The committee also found he declined to change the system by which he was paid the money directly, despite being advised by the chief executive to do so.
It also found he obstructed an internal investigation into the matter by refusing, on several occasions, to release information on his expenses, displaying a "cavalier attitude" to the auditors.
The committee also concluded he provided misleading information to a local government magazine by telling them he was co-operating with the investigation.
It also found he failed to register an interest in his consultancy firm Probert-West.
Recent Government changes to the standards regime meant the committee no longer had the option of suspending Coun Parsons.
Instead, he was given a strong censure, ordered to issue a written apology and undertake training on the code of conduct.
Mr Caple said: "The committee regards the breaches of the code very seriously.
"We have taken into account the 10 principles of public life in addition to the code of conduct. We feel you disregarded four key principles – honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership."
Mr Parsons told the committee he had not intended to make any personal financial gain by holding on to the money – for more than a year – but that his wife Liz was "totally" in control of his financial affairs.
He said: "I don't defend my action. I am not here to make excuses but to take responsibility. I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed at the way matters have evolved."
After the hearing, county council Liberal Democrat Group deputy leader Dr Sarah Hill said: "Throughout this long and drawn-out saga, caused by Mr Parsons' refusal to act with integrity and dignity, we have maintained the view that Mr Parsons should resign."
Labour Group leader Coun Max Hunt said: "It seems to me he cannot continue as leader and his actions have damaged the reputation of the council and he must go."
Coun Parsons issued a statement after the hearing claiming attacks against him were "politically motivated". He said: "I now intend to draw a line under the matter."
He calculated that over six years, East Midlands Council could have lost £150 in interest by him not returning the money promptly. He says he will pay that back and make a similar donation to charity.
The committee is made up of two independents – including the chairman – a Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem.