Tory councillor to step down from committees following expenses scandal
A rising member of Wandsworth’s Conservative party accused of abusing expenses while working as a political agent has stepped down from council committees after pressure from the council leader.
Councillor Robert Morritt, who represents for East Putney, has been asked to explain expenses while working for the Wandsworth Conservative Group (WCG).
Coun Morritt, a public affairs manager, has denied any wrongdoing, and is asking for an independent review of his work for WCG after an initial report finding questioned more than £60,000 worth expenses – including more than £30,000 spent in cheques, £25,000 on a taxi account, £5,000 on stamps and other unexplained items.
Opposition councillors have asked for clarification on why the allegations have only come to light recently.
The report, a copy of which was leaked to the Wandsworth Guardian, listed "excessive business and personal use of an Addison Lee taxi account on an undisclosed basis" as a major area of concern.
WCG began an investigation into alleged irregularities in Coun Morritt’s expenses in 2010, while he was agent for WGC and shortly after he became a councillor.
The report said Coun Morritt has admitted the account racked up £26,000 worth of journeys, that this was not disclosed to the organisation's general management committee, and that this included more than £5,000 of exclusively personal journeys by him - money that he has subsequently repaid.
He is also accused of keeping candidates election deposits to the value of £2,000, including £500 from Wimbledon Conservative Group.
The document added: "A very significant amount of the receipts presented relate to drinks in pubs and restaurant meals.
"In most cases it appears that Robert Morritt has claimed for casual evening drinks and meals out with friends, albeit friends who happen to be activists or councillors."
Leader of the council, Councillor Ravi Govindia, said this week: "I have been disturbed to read a series of allegations in recent days concerning Councillor Robert Morritt.
"All the allegations concern his alleged activity before he became a councillor, and none concern council taxpayers’ money, but I believe it is essential to get to the bottom of what has happened.
Coun Morritt said: "It is a sad fact in politics that malicious individuals can fire off accusations about people who are elected to serve their communities, and in certain quarters have their vicious claims taken at face value.
"Therefore I would welcome an independent review of the work I delivered for my previous employer, and for this to be conducted by a suitable person as soon as is possible.
"I will be writing to Wandsworth's chief executive so that he is aware I will be voluntarily not attending any committees until the report is concluded."
Leader of Wandsworth Labour party, Councillor Rex Osborn, said: "The allegations of misuse of Conservative funds are very serious and may be a matter for the police.
"We welcome the move by Councillor Govindia to suspend Councillor Morritt while the matter is being investigated.
"There are questions to be answered when these allegations were first known to Wandsworth Council. If there is any evidence that they have covered up the wrong doing as long back as 2010 they must say so before this issue damages the reputation of Wandsworth Council."
Annalise Hemsley, former chairman of the Wandsworth and Tooting Conservative Association, said the issue could dissuade donors from giving cash.
She said: "A lot of our money comes from membership subscription, among that are little old ladies and men who don't have tons of money but want to support the party."
Coun Morritt is a member of the finance and corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee, and helped Coun Govindia in his campaign to become leader.
He is also a member of the general purposes committee, adult care and health overview and scrutiny committee, joint staff committee and the standing advisory council on religious education.
The next full council meeting is taking place on October 17.
The WCG report was first published by the political website order-order.com.