LibDems raise further transparency concerns at troubled council

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In a short statement released yesterday evening, Oldham’s Liberal Democrats revealed exclusively that a company run by Cllr Zahid Chauhan MBE, the Borough Council’s current Deputy Mayor, and previous Cabinet Member for Health, received 14 separate payments over 9 separate months throughout 2021/22 totalling £637,042 from Oldham Council. Prior to the month of each payment, council rules say that he should have declared the upcoming payment, which the LibDems say he failed to do.

Their Shadow Cabinet Member for Health, Cllr Louie Hamblett, who discovered the undeclared payments, says:

“The rules are clear – if you have a contract with the Council, you’re meant to declare it before it happens. Cllr Chauhan failed to do this before each of the nine months that the fourteen payments took place. Instead, he filed paperwork a year late.

“Because of a loophole which means you don’t have to declare past payments, only future ones, all of these payments effectively remain hidden”.

The LibDems are at pains to stress that they make no allegation of criminal misconduct, although an offence under the Localism Act, 2011 may have been disclosed. But, in the prevailing circumstances, the question of such proceedings would be highly unlikely.

Cllr Mark Kenyon, Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet Member for Economy, says:

“Whilst Labour were decrying dodgy Tory Covid deals, Oldham Council paid over £600,000 to a healthcare company run by the Labour Cabinet Member for Health.

“The payments were made to Bardoc Ltd, which claims to return all profits to the community. Yet their latest accounts detail that no profit was made on a £13 million turnover, despite £107,000 paid collectively to either Cllr Chauhan directly or another company, AZ Medics Ltd, which is owned by Cllr Chauhan.”

He concludes: “There is no allegation of criminality, and whilst the Chief Executive [Harry Catherall] confirms that Cllr Chauhan declared a conflict of interest to his close colleagues, he has failed to do so to the people of Oldham to whom he is accountable. To make matters worse, this failure occurred nine times, including his most recent declaration dated June 2022, which should have been updated to declare £13,160 paid in June and £8,386 paid in August 2022”.

The two councillors say they will report Cllr Chauhan to Oldham Council’s Standards Committee and are demanding that he either proves Bardoc Ltd made no profit on the Council deal or he returns all of those profits to the council.

Preliminary investigations by the author of this article, Neil Wilby, require a number of questions to be answered around the transactions and the declaration of them on the Register of Interests. Notably, from the senior council colleagues to whom Cllr Chauhan reported his concerns over his conflict of interest and, specifically, what those colleagues advised him to do.

A number of press enquiries have been sent out as a result and Cllr Chauhan has, of course, been offered right of reply.

There is no finding of anything ‘dodgy’ about the deal between Oldham Council and Bardoc Ltd, a not for profit community organisation that operates across the Greater Manchester Region and which derives a smaller proportion of its income from Oldham than other contributing authorities. Notably, in Bolton, Bury and Rochdale. It was established in 1996 as a General Practitioners’ Co-operative (read more here).

Dr Chauhan, a nationally known health campaigner who is also the founder of Homeless Friendly (read more here), took up his role as part-time chief executive of Bardoc Ltd in April, 2022 following the sad death of his predecessor, Vicky Riding, who had held that position since Bardoc’s incorporation.

The contract referred to by the LibDems was entered into in March, 2021 and was for swabbing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since this article was published, a follow-up article has been posted on Neil Wilby Media which incorporates the Council Leader’s and a Council spokesperson’s response to the LibDem allegations. It can be read in full here.

In a further follow-up, a full rebuttal statement from Dr Chauhan can be read here.

The Liberal Democrat Leader in Oldham, Cllr Howard Sykes MBE, has yet to take up his right of reply to any of those responses.

Page last updated Wednesday 16th November, 2022 at 1520hrs

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Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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