November saw the Crown Prosecution Service give local police the go ahead to bring proceedings against Councillor Spencer Flower, 72, for three offences under Sections 31 and 34 of the Localism Act 2011.
The Act reinforces previous regulations concerning the disclosure of pecuniary interests and applies both to Councillors and to Members of Parliament. In both cases, the individual must disclose pecuniary interests for themselves and any spouse or civil partner they live with within 28 days of taking up office to be noted on a register, with the exception of special ‘sensitive interests’ – being those for which disclosure could lead to intimidation or violence against them – which are noted only as ‘an interest, details of which are withheld’.
In this case, John Locke – Senior Crown Prosecutor for the CPS Wessex Complex Casework Unit, summarised the issues:
“It is alleged that whilst Councillor Flower was leader of East Dorset District Council, he failed to declare his interest in Zebra Property Solutions LTD (ZPSL), a company for which he was a Non-Executive Director. It is also alleged that he failed to declare his interest in the same company to Dorset County Council.
“The third allegation relates to Councillor Flower failing to disclose his interest in Synergy Housing Ltd (SHL), a company in which he was also a Non-Executive Director, before a meeting of Dorset County Council on 25 February 2013 at which its Core Strategy for the provision of social housing was discussed. It is alleged that Cllr Flower participated and voted during this meeting.”
In reaching his decision, Mr Locke argued:
“I carefully reviewed all the evidence provided to me by Dorset Police and was satisfied that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to prosecute Councillor Flower for these three offences.”
Councillor Flower has been asked to attend Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court on 2 December 2014.
He told the BBC that he would stand aside temporarily as Leader to fight the claims.
Councillor Flower said:
“I want to put the people of Dorset first at a time when the council is going through a difficult period of service transformation.
“I cannot fulfil my duties in the way I wish at this time.”
It will be of concern to many that such a prominent Councillor was able to hide his ties to major companies and, potentially, to influence votes in their favour. Ultimately, many will hope that this high profile case will reduce the likelihood of future instances which could genuinely damage our democratic system and the weeks ahead may see calls for more stringent checks than those currently in place, particularly if Mr Flower is successfully prosecuted.