CONCERNS have been raised about an investigation that’s been ordered into claims a council leader acted inappropriately when sending out Christmas party invitations.
A complaint has been made to Portsmouth City Council about its leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, after 100 invitations to an event at his Southsea home were sent on council-headed paper – which meant the £70 postage fee was picked up by taxpayers.
It’s now been decided that a panel from the council’s governance and audit and standards committee will assess whether Cllr Vernon-Jackson has broken its code of conduct, which The News understands could cost anywhere up to £500.
Robert Oxley, campaign director of The TaxPayers’ Alliance, said that it was imperative the investigation was wrapped up quickly so taxpayers’ money wasn’t wasted further.
‘Misusing council headed paper is a serious issue,’ he said.
‘The council needs to quickly establish whether this was a genuine mistake or a more serious breach.
‘Either way, the council leader should apologise and ensure the cost of investigation is kept strictly under control to avoid wasting any more taxpayers’ money.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said only seven council-headed letters were meant to go out, and the rest was sent out in error by his secretary who got them mixed up with his Christmas card list.
The rest of his guests have been sent emails because he had an address for them.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said he himself covers the whole cost of the party, which he holds as a way of saying thank-you to key figures across the community for all of their hard work in the last 12 months.
‘This leaves me in a difficult position because a council officer has made a mistake that is now going to cost me money,’ he said. ‘The party is completely funded by myself.
‘Last year, it cost me £600 to £700.’
Yet councillors from different political parties defended the council’s actions in holding an inquiry.
Councillor Phil Smith, who represents the Liberal Democrats, said: ‘While this case may seem trivial, a complaint has been made and the council must consider that in accordance with its procedures.
‘We have no reason not to consider it because it seems trivial to somebody.
‘We have seen complaints that have seemed trivial to some, but the expense of the investigation then has turned out to save the council money in the long run because it’s ensured the issues aren’t repeated.’
Cllr John Ferrett, leader of Portsmouth’s Labour group, said that while he didn’t want to see more money being wasted, the leader needed to be held to account.
‘Council officers and people within the council should not be allowing him to be in a position where he can do things like this.
‘We feel exactly the same way about him wanting his own column in the council’s Flagship magazine.’
Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the Conservative group, said: ‘It’s completely inappropriate for any councillor to be wasting public funds.’