A KEY member of a body charged with growing Dorset’s economy has been accused of a “staggering conflict of interest” after he supported a controversial planning application.
Philip Warr, chief executive of PH Warr PLC, is a board member with the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership, which distributes millions of pounds in government grant.
Poole councillor Philip Eades has complained about the fact that Mr Warr appeared last year before Bournemouth planners to support plans for a hotel and leisure buildings on the Winter Gardens site.
Mr Warr’s firm was involved with the scheme, for which the planning agent was the since-disgraced former councillor Tony Ramsden.
Mr Warr has said he was frank about his involvement and that his remit with the LEP involves speaking up for plans that create jobs.
Mr Warr’s comments to the planning board were recorded in an email, in which he said his company was involved as quantity surveyors for the scheme but “my plea to members today is in my capacity as a board member of the Dorset LEP and chairman of the property and construction group”.
He told them the scheme – which they rejected – would deliver “significant employment” and economic value.
Cllr Eades said: “That’s a breathtaking conflict of interest. I can’t conceive of a situation where an elected member would say the same thing.”
He added: “The problem I’ve got with the LEP is not with the individuals themselves, it’s that it’s been set up like a democratic organisation but it’s nothing of the sort.”
The LEP’s board members previously included David Ramsden, who resigned after Daily Echo stories about his son Tony, who was jailed for dishonesty offences.
LEP chairman Gordon Page had told Mr Eades in an email that the Winter Gardens scheme “has never been on a LEP board agenda nor has the LEP authorised anyone to speak on this subject on its behalf”.
He added: “I understand Philip Warr did attend a planning meeting but not in any way in a LEP capacity.”
Mr Warr told the Daily Echo: “My plea to members was in my capacity as a board member of the LEP.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with what I’ve said and I don’t think Gordon would have a problem with what I said because I’m mandated to campaign for property and construction in Dorset.”
He said he had “no personal involvement” in the scheme but his firm had been asked to put its name to the development. It had not received any fees.
“Had it gone ahead, we would have put ourselves in a strong position to be involved in the scheme, as we are in many. We are one of the major quantity surveying practices in the area and we tend to be involved in a lot of schemes,” he said.
CLLR Eades took his complaint to Dorset County Council, which oversees the LEP.
David Walsh, the council’s economic development manager, replied: “Dorset County Council is the accountable body for the Dorset LEP in respect of financial matters and regulation. The council does not have a role to play in investigating the conduct of individual board members, or indeed the ability to remove any board member.”
He said the episode was a matter for LEP chairman Gordon Page, who replied to Cllr Eades: “Whatever is recorded, Mr Warr did not speak for the LEP and acted in a perfectly proper manner. He certainly did not need the LEP’s permission to attend and speak at that meeting. I am satisfied therefore that there is therefore nothing to investigate.”
Warr insists that board is meritocratic
PHILIP Warr has insisted the Dorset LEP is doing valuable work for the county in securing government money for growth and jobs.
The partnership - which brings representatives of business, local government and the voluntary sector - is negotiating with government over a bid for £167million to deliver its strategic economic plan.
A survey by the County Councils Network recently found 76 per cent of authorities thought LEPs were unaccountable, while 66 per cent said they lacked enough devolved funds.
But 65 per cent said their LEP had allowed them to deliver major projects and 66 per cent said the LEPs allowed them to develop growth strategies across borders.
Mr Warr said: “Everybody sitting around the LEP table are volunteers. We’re not paid, like being elected to a council.
“We give our time freely and some of us are giving a very considerable amount of time because of the work we’re doing at the moment.”
He said Dorset’s LEP was “highly regarded” by government.
“Part of why we’re so highly regarded is the quality of the relationship that’s been forged between business and local government,” he said.
The board of the LEP includes 10 business people, one from the voluntary sector and the leaders of the four biggest local councils.
Its chairman, Gordon Page, is also non-executive chairman of PH Warr PLC.
But Mr Warr said the board contained as many members who were unknown to him before his membership as were known to him.
“It’s not an old boy network - it’s a 100 per cent meritocratic board,” he said.