Tories face fury over 'plagueship council' cost pounds 103m

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Indy Politics
The total cost to Westminster residents of the alleged gerrymandering policies of Dame Shirley Porter, the city council's former leader, and her fellow Conservatives, was put at pounds 103m by Labour yesterday, far in excess of previous estimates.

Frank Dobson, Labour environment spokesman, demanded the money be repaid to the council tax payers of Westminster. At a curtain-raising press conference ahead of publication of the long-awaited District Auditor's final report on the council's "homes-for-votes" scandal, Mr Dobson accused the Tories of having committed "seven deadly sins" in Westminster.

Homes for votes, the selling of flats in key marginal wards, upon which John Magill, the District Auditor, is due to pronounce shortly, was, said Mr Dobson, just one of the seven. The other "sins" listed by Mr Dobson included a commitment to selling 100 properties a year which resulted in flats remaining empty despite homeless families in the area; large service charges and repair bills for those who bought leasehold flats under the homes-for-votes policy; millions spent by Government on subsidies to keep Westminster's local tax bills down; and, the "most deadly sin of all" - moving families into asbestos-affected blocks.

Mr Magill's report, a follow-up to his scathing interim findings made public two years ago, is expected to recommend the surcharging of Dame Shirley and her former colleagues, including Barry Legg, MP for Milton Keynes South West, for around pounds 30m.

The earliest the Magill report will be published is 1 April, it emerged yesterday. In a letter to Dame Shirley's lawyers, the District Auditor rejected her request for an advance copy of his report and to be able to comment on his conclusions. Instead, he said, he will write to her tomorrow, giving 10 days' minimum notice of the publication date. His decision and reasons will be made known to those affected at least two hours before they are released to the public.

Whichever date Mr Magill chooses, his report will almost certainly cast a shadow over the forthcoming Tory local government election campaign. That, plus another report due out shortly, on the moving of homeless families into asbestos- ridden flats in Paddington, will be seized upon by Labour. "Westminster used to be the Tories' flagship council,"Mr Dobson said . "These days it has become the Tories' plagueship council."

The Tories, not surprisingly, reacted angrily to Mr Dobson's claims. The present Tory leader of the council, Melvyn Caplan, said: "The hypocrisy of the Labour party is mind-blowing . . . they only care about their own political ends." He denied that Westminster had received preferential treatment from this government. "Westminster was actually better off financially under the last Labour government," he said.