Cliff Morris might still be clinging on as Bolton Council leader despite secretly giving £300,000 of public money to rich law firm Asons, but there are still 10 serious questions that he and his Labour councillors must answer.
The disgraced council leader dragged his three Westhoughton Labour councillors – Cllr Chadwick, Jones and Watters – into the row when they publicly backed his decision to give away the money to a firm owned by a man who bragged about driving his sixth Lamborghini.
The 10 questions critics want answering are:
• Why was the grant signed off and agreed in September when the works had been completed in August, if the purpose of the grant was, as we were told, to keep Asons in the town centre?
• What due diligence was done before the grant was awarded, assessing criteria, looking into the financial competence and sustainability of the company; assessing the business plan for economic growth and job creation; and who from the Council undertook this work?
• If due diligence was done, was the fact that Asons in their published accounts lost over £1 million; are in dispute with the inland revenue for £300,000 and claim in the notes to the accounts that their business model was under threat, taken into account?
• Why did Asons receive this grant when previous attempts to help Asons have ended in failure?
• When was the promise of money made to Asons, and when did the money actually change hands; and which specific Asons company account was the grant paid into?
• What checks have been done by Asons that the money has been spent on the refurbishment costs. Did Asons have to produce invoices and have we seen these invoices and did we put a charge on the building in the event of Asons going into administration?
• What personal connections are there between Asons directors and Executive members or councillors? Were any personal connections declared by Labour councillors? Did the ruling Group declare any interest between Asons and the Labour Party?
• Does the council think it is appropriate when money is tight to be handing over £300,000 to company whose director is claiming to have bought six Lamborghini’s in four years?
• Why was the whole grant passed under emergency powers when it clearly was not an emergency? Whose decision was it ultimately to use emergency powers, and why when the original letter was dated September, did the item not come to the October meeting of the Leader’s portfolio, as it should have done, but came six weeks later to the November meeting?
• A further question has arisen since council: Why did Cllr Morris tell the Corporate Scrutiny committee those discussions with Asons started in September and then tell Manchester Radio on December 1 that discussions started in January.
Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris recently gave an interview with The Bolton News in which he attempts to answer some of these questions…