Damning report on running of Norfolk’s county farms
PUBLISHED: 10:15 20 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:15 20 April 2016
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Disciplinary action is being taken against a member of staff involved in the running of Norfolk’s 16,000 acres of county farms, while a new report has revealed a damning lack of oversight for decisions over the estate.
Auditors at County Hall were called to go through the books of the estate last year, sparked by complaints, including over the process which saw councillors helping decide who should get tenancies.
Their newly published report concludes “key issues” need to be addressed and concedes: “The reporting of decisions and activity has not been sufficiently clear to counter a perception by some tenants and the wider public that decisions may be unfair or subject to favouritism”.
While the report said no potential criminal matters or member misconduct had been identified, it revealed on two occasions, farmers were offered plots even though they had not been the top scorers in assessments.
It is understood action is to be taken against some farmers who have been using land for practices not permitted in their tenancies, which had not been stopped before as checks were not in place.
The council refused to give details of the allegation which led to the suspension of a member of staff or what the disciplinary action is.
But the EDP understands a claim was made that a staff member moved into a home on one of the farms - meant for farmers - for a short period as he needed somewhere to live.
Recommendations have been made to tighten up governance, with greater oversight from senior officers. A further recommendation is that councillors play no further role in deciding who gets tenancies.
Jonathon Childs, UKIP councillor for East Flegg, who raised concerns last year, said: “There has clearly been a lack of transparency and good business practices exercised by the previous administration. I am shocked that such an important asset was left to be run in such an appalling way.”
But Ian Mackie, Conservative chairman of the county farms advisory board, said it had tried to raise issues, including lack of clarity over decision making, “time and time again”, only to meet a “governance vacuum”.
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