AFTER months of scrutiny and allegations, the district auditor has said that Swindon Council followed the letter of the law in securing its wi-fi contract with Digital City.
The Conservative-run council has been locked in a bitter feud with the town’s Labour party over the deal and every council meeting which mentioned the scheme ended with a fracas between the two parties.
The scheme, and more importantly, the process that was used, has been cleared by the council auditor and the district auditor has said there are no grounds for a public report.
Leader of the council Rod Bluh hopes this will now end the division within the council over the scheme and that both groups can move forward with the project.
He said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Labour group on Swindon Borough Council has reneged on the agreement made between its leader and myself to draw a line under the process behind the council's loan arrangement for this pioneering scheme.
“Instead of being focused on the future of the borough and the needs of its residents, it is clear that the opposition party is concerned only about internal procedures within the Civic Offices.
“As I have previously stated, the loan arrangement was decided in a lawful, proper way after receiving advice from all the relevant council officers, including the director of law and democratic services.
“The council’s scrutiny committee, which was chaired at the time by the leader of the opposition, reviewed all the decisions and resolved that due process had been followed.
“The facts are that the council has been exonerated by all internal and external scrutiny bodies and that our opponents in the Labour Party have not produced one shred of evidence to back up their allegations. To repeat accusations without substantiating them is a form of negative campaigning that has no place in responsible debate.”
He added that the council’s audit committee reviewed the process and found that the correct process has been followed.
The District Auditor has also reviewed the case and stated “... I am aware of no evidence of an unlawful item of account and there are no circumstances which would cause me to consider the issue of a report in the public interest.”
Labour leader Derique Montaut said: “The main issue the Labour group has had with wi-fi is the decision-making process that was used to agree to it, as the Conservative leader of the council used a decision-making route that neither consulted nor informed your elected representatives of its policy until it was agreed and then published in this paper.
“The Labour group does not agree with this. We accept that being the majority group does give you the right to set the local agenda but it shouldn’t give you the right to solely make decisions that affect all the residents of this borough.
“Our second issue with wi-fi is the precedent it has set for future council deals.
“Indeed, the leader of the council has repeatedly been on record stating his belief that he did nothing wrong and would do things in exactly the same way for future deals.
“So to those who have said that the Labour group’s criticisms of wi-fi were all party-political orientated and wholeheartedly negative, I would like to point out that it is we who are making sensible suggestions about how this council can move forward and become more democratic.
“Finally, I think it needs to be stated that the Labour group do firmly agree with the merits of wi-fi and will be making sure that this scheme can be a very positive thing for this town and especially for those who would otherwise not have internet access.”