A company employing Ian Lavery MP’s brother and son successfully tendered for a £2.3million project from Northumberland County Council-owned Arch.
The county council’s audit committee this morning (Friday, March 22) also heard that the brother of the then chief executive of Arch, Peter McIntyre, also worked at this company and was going to be the project manager on a separate £380,000 scheme to install solar panels on commercial buildings. There was no evidence of this relationship being declared.
The meeting was discussing a 98-page review by the council’s internal auditors of arrangements at the now-axed development company Arch under the previous Labour administration. This report had been completed in October 2017, but embargoed from publication until very recently by Northumbria Police.
The work given to this specific company between 2014 to 2017 was one of the main issues highlighted by Coun Nick Oliver, the council’s cabinet member for corporate services, during his overview.
A key concern was the tender process for a £2.32million project in 2014 to install solar panels in the Hirst and West End areas of Ashington, given that of the other four companies who tendered, one had gone out out of business the year before, one was a plumbing and heating merchants and another was said to be based in Cramlington but was actually the name of a firm in Liverpool.
A signed contract was later provided for phase one of the Hirst project for the sum of £947,194 to the company described as construction firm 13, the audit report explains.
“It appears it (the list of tenderers) was created after the event,” Coun Oliver said, going on to point out that relatives of both the Labour MP for Wansbeck, Mr Lavery, and Mr McIntyre worked at this company and that the relationships with external companies by some at Arch were ‘unhealthy’.
This was not the only time Mr Lavery’s name came up at the meeting; it was highlighted that he was chairman of Ashington Community Football Club – he has since stood down – at a time when Arch invested more than £1.5million in developing a new clubhouse and facilities and paid the salary of two of the club’s members of staff as well as utility and bar bills.
Mr McIntyre became a director of the football club in November 2016 – at the same time as Mr Lavery returned to the board – before resigning in January 2018.
Arch also spent £22,618.35 plus VAT on hospitality at the club through paying for tables at sportsmen’s dinners, a corporate evening for the opening of the new facility and Christmas entertaining.
In response to a question from Coun Gordon Castle about why Ashington CFC received all this when dozens of other clubs in the county didn’t, Coun Oliver said: “The justification is weak at best.”
The audit report also describes how Arch agreed £90,000 of work for the company mentioned above to install solar panels at Ashington CFC.
In relation to the ‘intertwined relationships’ between those involved, Coun Mark Swinburn said: “You have to declare absolutely everything, you have to be transparent.”
A spokesman for Mr Lavery said: “Ian has never held any position in Arch and has no knowledge or input into their decision-making processes.
“Many of Mr Lavery’s family members live locally and it is not unusual that they would be employed in local companies.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service