Central Beds leader leaps to defence of councillor under fire over business interests

Central Beds Council leader Cllr Richard Wenham (inset, top) has come to the defence of under fire Cllr Steve Dixon (below)Central Beds Council leader Cllr Richard Wenham (inset, top) has come to the defence of under fire Cllr Steve Dixon (below)
Central Beds Council leader Cllr Richard Wenham (inset, top) has come to the defence of under fire Cllr Steve Dixon (below)
The leader of Central Beds Council leapt to the defence of a councillor under fire over his business interests at the local authority's annual meeting.

Councillor Richard Wenham made a passionate rebuke of allegations against his executive colleague, Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon labelling the claims as "some disturbing misreporting".

Councillor Dixon's CBC declaration of interests in construction firm Willmott Dixon came under close scrutiny from Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny last month.

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The firm has been awarded contracts worth £42m by CBC since 2015, and was most recently awarded a £955,000 design contract for the upcoming Dunstable Health Hub.

Councillor Wenham chose to "address publicly the unfounded allegations and innuendo at the previous full council meeting about Conservative Langford and Stotfold councillor Steve Dixon's declaration of personal interests".

And he told CBC's annual meeting yesterday: "This has led to coverage which questions the proprietary of both councillor Dixon and the council, which I most strongly refute.

"The assertion made at full council and the resulting media coverage is simply inaccurate, and I need to put that record straight for members and the public," explained councillor Wenham.

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"All of councillor Dixon's past and current personal interests, including those in private companies, are published on our website for transparency.

"These are and have always been correctly declared, and have been confirmed as such by the monitoring officer.

"Since his election in 2015, councillor Dixon has always fully declared his interests.

"He has never been involved in anything that might give rise to a conflict of interest and has conducted himself appropriately.

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"The assertion that councillor Dixon's involvement with a parent company of Willmott Dixon has somehow influenced the council's decision making on contracts is also unfounded and wrong.

"In common with all procurement exercises undertaken by the council the contract which was awarded to Willmott Dixon was done transparently and in line with all relevant procurement legislation and guidance.

"The (Dunstable) health hub and housing contract recently awarded to Willmott Dixon was made following a full and competitive process in 2019," he said.

"Furthermore, and for the record, councillor Dixon took no part in any of the decision making and excused himself from any discussions relating to this scheme.

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"Given the scale of this council's capital programme, it should be no surprise that a national company, such as Willmott Dixon, tenders for and is sometimes successful in being awarded construction work for CBC.

"In the last five years, prior to the hub contract, we've awarded more than £380m in major works contracts to over 20 different contractors.

"Willmott Dixon will have tendered for some of these unsuccessfully. In fact, only one contract in the whole of this time has been awarded to Willmott Dixon.

"I find it deeply disappointing these assertions are being made which are totally unfounded and inaccurate.

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"It's damaging to the reputation of individuals and the council as a whole, and will undoubtedly affect this council's ability to deliver value for our residents in the future."

Councillor Dixon, who's the executive member for sustainability and transformation, was absent from Thursday's (May 13) meeting.

Reminding councillors about the Nolan principles of public life which govern their role, councillor Wenham added: "I hope we can now move on from this recent bout of the very worst type of student politics and the unfounded smearing of reputations."

Amid laughter within the council chamber, councillor Wenham added: "I'm sorry to find that any members of this council find that in any way amusing. I think that's absolutely appalling."

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He suggested councillors should "focus on what we're here to do, delivering services for our residents".

From 2016-21, the number of works contracts awarded by CBC was 35, of which one was to Willmott Dixon accounting for only five-and-a-half per cent of the local authority's overall contracts value.

The annual meeting heard there was "a detailed exempt item on the procurement and costings from different suppliers" for the Dunstable hub project at April's executive committee, when no questions were raised