Cabinet member resigns over breach of code of conduct in dealing with grant application by motorcycle display team

A Hampshire cabinet member has resigned after a standards investigation found he breached the code of conduct over a council grant to a children’s motorcycle display team.

Sean Woodward, a Conservative, was cabinet member for recreation and heritage. He is also leader of Fareham Borough Council, a post he retains.

Hampshire’s conduct panel decided that no further action need be taken against him.

Two local residents Russell Collier and Jason Morris complained that Cllr Woodward broke the councillors’ code of conduct.

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In January 2020 Hampshire appointed as investigator Simon Goacher, a partner with law firm Weightmans.

He concluded that Cllr Woodward failed to comply with the code over the award of a £15,000 grant to the Rockets display team.

Mr Goacher said: “Cllr Woodward was heavily involved in supporting Ms A [an official of the team] in making the application.

“He has shown an extensive interest in the application from before it was even made.”

A dispute developed within the Rockets’ management led Ms A to set up the separate Solent Stars team to which she asked that the Rockets grant be made instead.

The report said: “The applications of both the Rockets and the Solent Stars related to the provision of a lorry for the team. Cllr Woodward told officers that he was taking his HGV licence when the application was being made and later showed a video to officers of him driving the Solent Stars’ lorry (which was not funded by the council).

"He was reluctant to answer my question when I asked him about this. His solicitors stated that this was because it was not relevant. In my view it was because it showed (in part at least) the true motive for his support for the application.”

Cllr Woodward arranged for the grant decision to be taken by another cabinet member just before a potential reshuffle and while Cllr Woodward remained in office.

Mr Goacher said: “[Cllr Woodward] arranged for the decision to be made when he knew that he would still be the relevant executive member.

“He ensured that everything was lined up to give the very strong likelihood that the grant would be awarded.”

The report found: “Cllr Woodward should not just have excluded himself from the formal decision to award the grant but should have taken no part in the application process.

“In fact, he was extremely active throughout the grant process both in supporting Ms A to complete the application, by pressing officers on progress and bringing forward the decision day.”

He added: “In acting as he did, Cllr Woodward was influenced by his relationship with Ms A. This amounted to a failure on his part to act ‘fairly, appropriately and impartially’ as required by…the code. He was certainly not impartial regarding the application.

“Cllr Woodward also allowed other pressures, namely the interests of himself (in wanting to utilise his HGV licence) and others connected to him (Ms A), to deter him from pursuing the good governance of the county council in a proper manner.”

In a Facebook statement Cllr Woodward said: “A conduct advisory panel hearing at Hampshire County Council has decided that no further action is to be taken regarding the complaints.”

He said: “Following interest expressed by Rockets, a community interest group known to me, I mentioned their potential application to council officers. “In my enthusiasm for getting a new grant scheme underway, I happened to mention a rather quirky application to officers. The group wanted to buy a lorry to travel to their shows.

“I apologise for having had a single lapse in judgement - the first in my 35 years of public and community service.”

Mark Smulian

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