County Councillor Breached Council’s Code of Conduct but No Action Taken

A Hampshire councillor has been found in breach of the councillor’s code of conduct.

A panel has found that Cllr Sean Woodward – the executive member for recreation and heritage at Hampshire County Council – “compromised his position” when dealing with a new grant scheme he set up after he became cabinet member in 2018.

The panel said there was no suggestion of “dishonesty” but a “lapse of judgement”.
Cllr Woodward – who is also the leader of Fareham Borough Council – said he had enthusiasm for the scheme and has been “very careful” during his political career not to show “any such lapses”.

The county council’s Conduct Advisory Panel reached its conclusion after an almost eight-hour long meeting today.
Panel members quizzed Cllr Woodward and listened to the findings of independent investigator Simon Goacher.

Mr Goacher investigated Cllr Woodward’s involvement in the allocation of a £15,000 grant to the Rockets Children’s Motorcycle Display Team.

The investigation came after a complaint was made against Cllr Woodward.

The panel heard that Cllr Woodward  declared an interest in the Rockets as one of its members was also working for him.
It was for this declared interest that the decision over the allocation of the £15,000 grant was delegated to another councillor.
Mr Goacher  told the panel he investigated claims that council officers felt under pressure from Cllr Woodward in regards to the Rockets’s application.

Mr Goacher also told the panel there were allegations that Cllr Woodward helped the Rockets write the application.
But Mr Goacher also said: “I don’t believe that he did write it but clearly he had some involment.”

Defending himself, Cllr Woodward strongly denied the claims.

He said the Rockets told him they had problems in uploading the application and Cllr Woodward flagged up the issue with the council’s IT department.

Speaking to the panel Cllr Wooward said: “On the 14th of January [2019] I agreed that new grant scheme and I mentioned that a grant towards a lorry from a children motorcycle display team may be on its way.”

He said he had mentioned that application because he found it “quirky”.
But the panel heard how the grant was then withdrawn following a fall out between members of the Rockets.

Mr Goacher said he considered a jigsaw of evidence and there were questions on whether Cllr Woodward’s behaviour gave rise to a breach of the code of conduct.

Chair of the panel Cllr Rhydian Vaughan MBE said: “Our decision is that councillor Woodward compromised his position on the 14th of January when approving the grant scheme by mentioning to officers a specific application expected from an organisations with which he had strong links and secondly councillor Woodward put himself under an obligation to the Rockets to try to influence the decision making process by failing to exercise independent judgement.”

Cllr Vaughan also said Cllr Woodward was involved in a subsequent grant application in which he declared to have an interest.
Cllr Vaughan said this “constitutes a breach” of the councillors’ code of conduct.

But he added: “This is a unanimous decision. There’s no suggestion in our mind of any dishonesty in this but nearly a lapse of judgement. We consider that no further action is necessary.”

Talking soon after, Cllr Woodward said: “It is disappointing that I have been judged to have lapsed. If it was my enthusiasm for getting a scheme under way then so be it because I happened to mention what I thought it was a quirky application to the officers so be it.”