THE council's deputy leader Ian Barker has described the Blobbygate saga as a "very sorry story" and says it's up to the District Auditor to investigate any alleged misconduct. During a 'clear the air' meeting at the town hall last week, the deputy leader backed public criticism of the council's handling of the costly £2 million fiasco. Contrary to the official town hall line, Cllr Barker described the controversial side letter agreement as "important".

"We have to acknowledge that it is a very sorry story. We don't come out if it with flying colours at all," he told members of the finance committee. "The people out there are entitled to this discussion and to have their questions answered honestly and frankly. I think the side letter is an important issue. Councillors took a public stance which was to support the project but that was only after great internal debate. The issue of guarantees against substantial losses was important. Councillors relied on the belief that there was a side letter agreement. We have to rely on reports and minutes and if those reports didn't sound the alarm bells, that is important. Members were not able to take the decision that should have been taken."

The deputy leader was speaking after chief executive David Corker had talked councillors through his bulky report into the affair. Mr Corker admitted that many mistakes had been made but was at pains to stress that none had been "wilful".

However Cllr Barker focused most of his criticism on the role of senior officers.

He added: "The written records were deficient. We were entitled to more information than we were given. The district auditor will investigate and it would be wrong if the district auditor didn't investigate. If there has been any misconduct then it's not up to us to pre-empt the district auditor's report. As it turns out, going to law was another mistake. I cannot see how our QC was fairly briefed and it leaves a big question mark over how we get bad legal advice when it comes to large commercial contracts."

The committee voted unanimously to send the report to the next full council meeting where other councillors would be able to comment. The public is welcome to attend the meeting on April 29 at Morecambe Town Hall starting at 2pm.

Cllr Ian Barker

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