Increased surcharge for Lady Porter

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The Independent Online
A group of former Tory councillors and council officers in Westminster have been told by the district auditor that they are to be surcharged by just under pounds 30m, an increase of pounds 8.5m on his previous estimate.

The six councillors, including former leader Dame Shirley Porter, and four officials were originally told by the auditor, John Magill, last year that their actions in allegedly attempting to ensure Westminster remained in Tory control by selling council houses in selected marginal areas had cost the council pounds 21.255m.

That estimate was challenged by the group but Mr Magill, rather than reducing the level of surcharge they face, has increased it to pounds 29.949m. Most of this loss arises from discounts to purchasers of the homes which were sold as part of the scheme which Mr Magill alleges was an attempt to gerrymander votes by replacing Labour-voting council tenants with Tory- voting owner occupiers.

In January last year, Mr Magill issued his preliminary findings which said that 11 councillors and officers (one former councillor subsequently took his own life) had acted unlawfully in drawing up the "designated sales" schemes targetted at marginal wards.

Yesterday, Frank Dobson, Labour's shadow environment spokesman, said that the Westminster scandal was on a far bigger scale than any alleged wrongdoings in Labour councils. "Before the Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney says anything else about Labour councils, he should admit that Westminster City Council is in the wrong and then step in to insist they stop their wrongdoing and repay the money they have squandered," Mr Dobson said.

Mr Magill has also written to the council over several schemes to indemnify many council lessees, in particular former council tenants who have bought their homes, from paying Westminster charges for repairs. Mr Magill says there are doubts about the legality of these schemes, some of which have been suspended by the council, and criticises Westminster for trying to complete further sales before the legal basis is definitively ascertained.