Yesterday, a conduct panel ruled that Hampshire County Councillor Sean Woodward compromised his position by pursuing a bid from a children’s motorcycle display team in the spring of last year.
The ruling follows a complaint from two leaders of The Rockets Motorcycle Display Team, which had stood to benefit from the grant.
Cllr Woodward began to attend performances by the group in the winter of 2018, before allegedly assisting the team with the grant application.
According to an investigating officer, a series of emails seen as ‘unusual’ put pressure on council staff to focus on the bid.
This application was approved by another councillor after Cllr Woodward declared an interest in The Rockets, as one of its leaders was also working for him.
A dispute within The Rockets saw the former leader create the new display team Solent Stars in June last year, with the split halting the grant – but Cllr Woodward pursued a ‘like-for-like’ application for the new group.
The investigator, Simon Goacher from legal firm Weightmans LLP, said there was ‘some dispute about the nature of the relationship’ between Cllr Woodward and ‘Ms A’, who founded Solent Stars.
The county council panel came to unanimous agreement that Cllr Woodward had breached the members’ code of conduct.
Councillor Rhydian Vaughan, the chairman of the panel, said: ‘Councillor Woodward compromised his position...when approving a grant scheme by mentioning to officers a specific application expected from an organisation with which he had strong links.
‘And secondly, Cllr Woodward put himself under an obligation to The Rockets to try to influence the decision making process by failing to exercise independent judgement.
‘Thirdly, following declaring his interest and putting into the public domain that he would not be making the decision, it is clear that Councillor Woodward reinvolved himself in the grant payment process by making contact with officers in relation to the Solent Stars.’
Cllr Vaughan added that there was no suggestion of ‘dishonesty’ or ‘skulduggery’ but the behaviour represented ‘a lapse of judgement’.
Upon hearing the panel’s ruling, Cllr Woodward said ‘it's all a bit to take in’.
He said: 'It’s disappointing to have been judged to have lapsed in judgement, I have tried to be very careful throughout my political career not to show any lapses.
‘And if it was my enthusiasm for getting a scheme under way, so be it...I happened to mention what I thought was a quirky application to the officers.’
The panel decided no further action will be taken regarding the complaint.