Controversy has broken out around accusations levelled by Witney Conservatives over a role held by Councillor Duncan Enright, Labour deputy leader of West Oxfordshire District Council.
Witney Conservatives have accused Cllr Enright of a conflict of interest due to his role with the Community Communications Partnership, a company that connects service providers and developers to the public sector. He is the county councillor for Witney North & East, as well as district councillor for Witney East and a town councillor.
The matter was raised at the first West Oxfordshire District Council meeting of the year. Conservative Group leader, and former leader of WODC, Cllr Michele Mead asked the Leader of the Council if it was appropriate for the deputy leader to now be working for a company involved in work between the council and developers.
In his response the council leader, LibDem Cllr Andy Graham, said: “The Deputy Leader is clear in his statement that in his role with the CCP he is not involved in any way, nor is he privy to any information, regarding developments within or impacting Oxfordshire or West Oxfordshire. Therefore, there is no conflict of interest with his role as Deputy Leader and Executive Member.”
Cllr Mead responded: “We aren't any clearer whether the Deputy Leader is liaising with developers on matters within West Oxfordshire other than his word. I’m afraid this isn't good enough and we don't think it's appropriate for him to be working with developers behind the backs of residents given the issues we face in this district with developers taking advantage.”
In an extensive statement to the Clarion, Cllr Enright strongly refuted the allegations, explaining that the CCP is run by councillors, ex-councillors and MPs from all parties:
I am a (freelance) associate at The CCP and work with councils and developers or others to make sure that any development that comes forward does so with full knowledge of local opinion, particularly that of local elected councillors. It works with councils and or others to make sure that any development that comes forward does so with full knowledge of local opinion, particularly that of local elected councillors. In the best case this leads to better applications, and better outcomes for local residents.
The CCP precludes their associates from working on or having access to information about local developments where a serving councillor is included. In Cllr Enright’s case, this means he is not involved with anything involving Oxfordshire or West Oxfordshire.
Expressing surprise at this attack from the Conservatives, Cllr Enright pointed out the cross-party nature of the CCP’s associates, pointing out that there are many companies working in this area with many councillors working with them:
The former (Conservative) leader of WODC introduced me to the Community Communications Partnership. Other CCP associates are Conservative, also Lib Dem and Green (and Labour). There are many such companies working in this area, and providing a useful link between councillors and developers - though I believe the Community Communications Partnership to be one of the most ethical.
He says that the current Conservative Minister for Local Government, Simon Hoare, worked in a similar manner when a Cabinet Member at West Oxfordshire District Council. Wikipedia reports that former councillor Hoare “began his own public relations and lobbying company, Community Connect, of which he was managing director. Following the 2010 general election, Hoare became a director in the public affairs arm of Four Communications.”
Cllr Enright says: “I apply the rule - what would I think if I were local councillor? What would I want for my ward’s residents? I would never do something for work that compromised my ability to stand up for the interests of my neighbours who elected me.”
Employment with the CCP is recorded on the Council’s Register of Interests, which is published online. Outside of the CCP, Cllr Enright’s other work involves delivering training through a number of organisations (including editing a recent book on Ethical Leadership), and publishing books on best practice for cancer care professionals.