New probe into deal which brought in Great Yarmouth advertising pillars


PIPs - Credit: Archant

Claims that dealings behind the £45,000 Public Information Pillars (PIPs) debt were 'covered up' are to be put under the spotlight.

The debt was accrued when Great Yarmouth Borough Council failed to recoup money owed for advertising on the giant pillars dotted around town.

And while the £15,000 per year bill - stretching back to 2009 - is now being repaid, a resident believes detail of how it was allowed to happen has been swept under the carpet.

Richard Hudson addressed a public question to Tuesday's full council meeting at the town hall.

After asking for confirmation that all decisions are recorded, he questioned why 'the decision to allow the Tourist Authority to keep the PIPs contract' was not available.

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He said there was a single mention in minutes - with no detail on it - signed off by former Tory cabinet member Barry Stone.

And he asked the meeting: 'Does this suggest a possible cover-up?'

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The PIPs 'cock-up' - as described by Labour councillor Jamie Smith - was set to face scrutiny earlier this year.

But at a meeting chaired by Barry Stone on June 13 the matter was removed from the programme of work.

Mr Stone said this was the decision of the committee and not his alone, and he felt the matter had been dealt with as cash is now being repaid.

After representations from Mr Hudson, the item has been put back on the scrutiny programme.

The motion was put forward by Lee Sutton, Labour councillor for central and Northgate ward.

Trevor Wainwright, council leader, told the meeting: 'This was before we came into administration.

'We will look into it as deeply as we can, but if you don't record something there's only so much you can do.'

Great Yarmouth Tourism Authority should have been paying the council £15,000 a year since 2009 when it won a contract to sell advertising on the borough's Public Information Pillars (PIPs), it is claimed.

But no money was ever paid.

The Tourism Authority had claimed it could not pay because it was owed money by PIP owners Sutton Media, which it said agreed to pay a sum of money in return for selling advertising.

And Neil Oakden, the general manager of Sutton Media, said 'there existed no agreement between the parties' but agreed to pay the money in instalments.

Whatever happened between Sutton Media and the Tourist Authority, the council was left out of pocket as it was paying Great Yarmouth Town Centre Partnership £15,000 a year – and that funding was meant to be offset by the money coming from the PIPs, which are dotted around the town centre and the main areas leading to the seafront - as well as along the seafront.

Speaking after the meeting, Barry Stone - Conservative councillor for Lothingland ward - said: 'I do recall signing off that item some years ago.

'I know there was some controversy over that but I can't remember what it was without checking with Alan Carr.

'It rumbled on for quite a while.

'The reason it was taken off the scrutiny agenda - and it wasn't my decision, it was a group decision - was we assumed as it's now been resolved and the money is being repaid there isn't an item to scrutinise.

'If there's a desire to scrutinise the historical content as to how this debt accrued, I don't have a problem with it.'

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