Stansted parish councillor demands apology after being accused of using leaked information to expose controversial £35m investment deal by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) in unidentified defence industry supplier's new HQ
A Stansted parish councillor is demanding an apology after being accused of using leaked information to expose a controversial £35m investment deal by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) that could link it to the arms trade.
Cllr Daniel Brett has lodged a formal complaint against UDC leader John Lodge and his fellow Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) group members Neil Reeve (Broad Oak and the Hallingburys) and Neil Hargreaves (Newport) following accusations made about him during a UDC cabinet meeting last week.
UDC's investment board met behind closed doors in January to agree a deal to become a "funding partner" to help an unidentified defence industry supply company build its new HQ – believed to be outside Uttlesford. It is referred to in council minutes as ‘Investment Opportunity 12’.
In his personal blog, Stansted.report, Mr Brett, who stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate in the May 2019 district council elections, warned that the local authority risked “potentially tying its commercial strategy to an arms trade that stands accused of complicity in war crimes and genocide”.
He claimed ethical concerns raised by councillors had been “batted away” by the R4U administration and that his subsequent questioning had been ignored. He has since launched an online petition calling on the council to cancel the investment.
Stansted North's Cllr Alan Dean, leader of UDC's Liberal Democrat group, called it “a shocking situation” that could place the administration on the verge of collapse over its lack of transparency.
UDC's Lib Dems and Green Party have tabled a motion for next Tuesday's council meeting calling for an ethical investment policy.
Cllr Dean told the Indie: “Uttlesford is currently a dysfunctional council that claims to be open and transparent and is, in fact, the opposite.
"It cannot and will not tolerate challenge or questions either from councillors or the public, and such questioning is met with dismissive responses and even abuse."
Mr Brett said: “I've been asking questions about one particular investment which the council minutes state is related to it becoming a funding partner in the construction of a new head office, warehouse and research facility for a supplier to the defence industry.
“I asked questions about whether this defence company or its suppliers were involved in the arms trade with Saudi Arabia and no-one will give me a reply.
"Now I've been accused in a cabinet meeting of receiving leaked information on this investment.
"John Lodge has said that my questions were entirely inappropriate and misleading, and as a result I feel my motivations have been taken as malign.
“I've been defamed by the council leader, who has accused me of something quite serious which I haven’t done, with no opportunity to defend myself.
"There are thousands of other things we could be investing in, including within our own community, and the council needs to prove to us as residents that these investments are safe, that there is no reputational or commercial risk.
“But instead of talking, the council acts aggressively.
"There are many good councillors in R4U who are there for the right reasons, but there’s a lot of toxicity within Uttlesford that makes working relationships almost impossible and it needs to stop. I am not the enemy.
"I don’t know where this company’s building is, I don’t know how the deal is being struck. There's no leak, it’s all information that is minuted, and councillors cannot accuse members of the public of undermining public services simply for asking questions.
“There are thousands of properties available across the country and potential investments in our district which could help generate and support jobs at a time when the aviation industry has been hit by the pandemic. Why choose something that is highly charged with controversy?
"Having failed to establish a proper ethical exclusion list, which is standard for any publicly owned investment fund, Uttlesford District Council has instead chosen to involve itself in the grubbiest industry, knowing full well the likely objections among many residents."
Cllr Reeve said that he was unaware of Mr Brett's formal complaint. However, UDC has told Mr Brett that Cllrs Lodge, Reeve and Hargreaves have been notified but have not yet been copied the complaint.
Cllr Reeve told the Indie that comments that he had spoken to Mr Brett by phone to discuss the investment were "mistaken" – he said that his offer to discuss it had been turned down by Mr Brett. In fact, when Cllr Reeve offered to discuss the matter over the phone, Mr Brett said that he would prefer to have Cllr Reeve's answers to his questions about the investment in writing. He has not received any.
Cllr Reeve said that he did not wish to comment further. Cllr Lodge could not be reached for a comment.
Mr Brett has been told by UDC that under its procedure his complaint will be discussed with one of the council's "Independent Persons (IP)" next Wednesday (Feb 24).