Councillors who promised openness and transparency in Arlesey before election blasted for ‘squandering’ almost £14,000 of taxpayers’ money

Councillor Chris Gravett didn't answer any questions about his legal expenses on Tuesday night.

Councillor Chris Gravett didn't answer any questions about his legal expenses on Tuesday night. - Credit: Archant

A town council elected on an ‘openness and transparency’ ticket has been slammed by constituents after spending thousands of pounds on legal action.

Arlesey Town Council has spent £13,435 – 7.5 per cent of its annual budget – on unsuccessfully defending Councillor Chris Gravett for making an untrue allegation during a meeting in April last year.

Former chairman Nick Daniels said: “I am appalled that the council has squandered this much money.”

He claimed the legal action arose out of an attempt to discredit former clerk Elsie Hare and, despite his claims being strenuously challenged on the night, Councillor Gravett insisted they were true.

The claim was minuted and Mrs Hare’s husband Tony took legal action.

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When the action was decided in his favour, it meant a total bill of £24,518. The council covered most of that cost, including a £2,500 payment to Mr Hare, with Councillor Gravett paying more than £11,000 out of his own pocket.

Councillor Gravett is the vice-chair of the Independents for Arlesey group which was elected by a landslide in May on a mandate of opening the council up to the public.

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Judy Rencontre, one of the councillors who lost her seat in the election, claimed the new administration had failed to live up to its promises.

She said: “I want to remind you why you all got elected. I congratulated all of you and one of the reasons I did that was because Independents for Arlesey stood for openness and transparency and I haven’t seen very much of that. I am pretty angry.

“Councillors need to get a grip and see what is happening before we are in serious trouble.”

In April, while still under Mr Daniels’ leadership, the town council approved a resolution to pay Councillor Gravett’s initial legal costs.

But Mr Daniels said this week: “I do not believe that any sane person would consider paying nearly £13,500, or indeed the first payment of £7,500, as being covered by that resolution.”

Council chairman Mick Holloway noted each point and explained the legal action did not relate to any comments made on social media in November or December last year, as had been rumoured, and said the case had now been resolved.

He added: “The council will continue to reasonably but robustly defend claims against the council and its councillors.”

Former chairman Hugh Harper also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday night, and criticised the council’s actions.

Both former chairmen called on Councillor Gravett to resign, but he did not respond to any of the questions.

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