Following an investigation by Bolton RISE into the use of public money to fund the refurbishment of Asons Solicitors Churchgate office building we can reveal that the whole truth may not have been told.
Bolton Council led by council leader Cliff Morris used emergency powers to issue a grant in October 2016 to Asons Solicitors. The grant was awarded to help with building refurbishments a move that proved to be controversial and led to the council leader being branded as corrupt and accused of running a dictatorship.
Part of the justification by the council for using emergency powers was centred on the time frames of the grant approval process and claims that under state aid rules funding of this nature needed to be approved by the European commission.
When Bolton council finally offered an explanation for what went on over the emergency grant funding over 9 weeks after the grant was issued Cllr Adia stated that the grant "would be subject to an assessment against state aid rules, so that would take a bit of time and couldn’t happen immediately, it is a rigorous process.” He also claimed, "the officer needed permission to start the state aid process and we know that takes several months, so without that agreement, the officer would not have had permission to start that process and it is a slow process as it is.”
The council's explanation led people to believe that the use of emergency powers was essential to give confidence to Asons about its commitments and due to the lengthy process of approval by the European commission and the state aid process however, Bolton RISE can reveal that after contacting the European commission this may not have been the case.
The European commission told Bolton RISE that the application for state aid made by Bolton council (EC ref SA.46638) was made as part of a Global block exemption and was not subject to prior approval.
The commission said "with regards to the grant in question, please note that it has been awarded under the Global block exemption regulation. In line with its Article 11 on reporting, the Member State has provided the Commission summary information on the block-exempted measure."
This confirmed that the application made under state aid was exempt from any approval by the European commission as it was part of a Global Block Exemption regulation (GBER) however in line with article 11 the Member state (Bolton council) had a duty to provide a summary of its funding electronically via the electronic reporting system and provide an annual statement of its funding each year. The European commission confirmed that this process had been followed by Bolton council.
When asked to clarify if Bolton council would have had to wait for approval from the European commission they replied by saying "no, the authority would not have to wait. Measures adopted under the GBER are exempted from the Commission approval."
Bolton council also previously confirmed that while the official letter confirming the grant was produced on September 20th 2016, the EU clearance did not arrive until early October again leading people to believe that they were awaiting approval from the European commission. The Commission’s documentation that confirms the summery of the application for the grant has a registration/Notification date as the 18th October 2016 suggesting that during this period the Council was not awaiting any approval as the notification of the grant had not been given to the European commission at that point.
This new information reveals that the executive committee may not have provided the people of Bolton with the truth after all. It also leaves more questions to be answered.
The information comes to light at a time that Bolton Council and the council leader Cliff Morris were hoping to put the Asons saga behind them following confirmation tonight that the Grant money has been paid back in full after the former director and founder Imram Akram has reportedly sold the company to a family members company Banks Solicitors Ltd which is trading as Coops law. The new owner Irfan Akram along with Imram Akram is also a director of Asons Estates Ltd the company that owns and manages the News paper house building on churchgate.
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