The former chairman of Northumberland’s development company Arch, who was implicated in claims over lavish trips to the south of France, has hit back at the allegations.
Coun Dave Ledger, who was the council’s deputy leader while the Labour administration was in power, was named publicly at yesterday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s audit committee at which a series of concerns over the firm’s spending were aired.
‘Significant expenditure’ (approximately £73,000 in total) has been spent by Arch on seven real-estate conferences in London and Cannes ‘with no evidence of an evaluation of the benefits’, the meeting heard.
A significant proportion of this went on hospitality, including high-cost meals and alcohol up to £200 per head, first-class travel and accommodation. One trip’s travel and hotel costs were more than £13,000.
Today, a statement issued on behalf of Coun Ledger said: “I am issuing this statement in order to correct inaccurate and misleading information which was circulated as a result of a recent meeting of Northumberland County Council’s audit committee.
“This relates to legitimate attendance at events on behalf of Arch Group and in pursuit of economic growth in our county.
“I have been accused in various forums of having a chauffeur who was a taxi driver in the UK on visits to the MIPIM event in Cannes. This is categorically untrue and I can confirm that I was not in Cannes for the event in question.
“I have also been accused of ‘necking wine’ while at the same event. I can confirm that once again I was not at the event in question and I do not drink wine.
“I have also been accused of ‘staying in palatial accommodation in Cannes’ which is untrue. I stayed on the edge of Cannes at the event in question and I have stayed in many better Premier Inns.
“On a corporate level, Arch has been accused of ‘flying a taxi driver out to drive me and others around’, the cost being borne by the public purse. I was not at that event so this is not true. The cost was borne by a private company which was also on the trip.
“The true cost being borne by the public purse is a result of a series of investigations, using shadowy private contractors and hugely expensive auditors, which we estimate to run to near £500,000, to pursue a political agenda to damage the reputation of Arch and political opponents of the current administration, which is both grossly unfair and potentially unlawful.
“As a result of the council and Arch report of yesterday, I am consulting my solicitors and I have a determination to hold those to account who have and are currently acting disgracefully and against the public interest.”
The council report stated that ‘there is evidence that an individual from a local taxi private-hire firm was flown to Nice, France, and provided with a vehicle and accommodation which was paid for by Arch Group’.
A private company has confirmed that it paid for a driver and his flights and accommodation for the conference, but that this was for its staff and nothing to do with Arch. It is not known if this is the same incident referred to in the report.
Yesterday, a Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “As an open and transparent organisation, it was only right these matters were discussed publicly.”
Ben O'Connell , Local Democracy Reporting Service