Cambridgeshire County Council has questions to answer over its handling of the farm gate affair, in which a senior Conservative Councillor has become the tenant of one of the County council's farms.
Lib Dem group leader Lucy Nethsingha has written to the council to ask:
- Whether Councillor Hickford influenced the criteria for judging tenancies in the two years prior to obtaining a tenancy for himself.
- Whether any changes in criteria were advertised widely to ensure all potential applicants were aware of changes which were made to the criteria for judging tenancies.
- The relationship Cllr Hickford had with officers in the County Farms department at Shire Hall, and whether these relationships might be expected to influence their ability to make unbiased judgements of any tenancy application made by Cllr Hickford. (I am in particular concerned that there have been some references to Cllr Hickford having frightened members of staff in the County Farms department, if this was the case it could have influenced officers judgements when awarding a tenancy.)
- Whether the decision to abate rent to Cllr Hickford, prior to significant investment being made to the property, was an expected part of the business case when the tenancy was agreed, and whether this is normal practice for new tenancies.
- Whether there should have been greater openness and transparency in decision making throughout the process of the award of the tenancy, the decision to invest in the property including the decision to make an investment the pay-back period for which would take the tenant (Cllr Hickford) over retirement age, and the decision to allow rent abatement while the process of investing in the property took place.
- Whether the investment proposed for the property is in fact a good investment for the County Council, given that the proposed use is for a very specialised business, and the work may not be wanted by other possible tenants.
- Whether it was appropriate for Roger Hickford to be the lead member for the Outcome Focused review of the County Farms estate when he was himself a tenant of the estate, and whether it was appropriate for him to be the “Member Champion” for the estate.