Councillor is suspended

Emma McGurrin
Emma McGurrin

A WIGAN councillor at the centre of a probe into alleged expenses irregularities has been suspended by her party.

Labour national headquarters made the decision this week after a complaint was made by Coun Emma McGurrin.

It is believed local party chiefs made the complaint as part of the on-going investigation by the town hall’s internal audit team.

John Mitchell, legal director at Wigan Council, said: “Following an internal audit investigation, discrepancies have been found in the expenses claims made by one of our members. We are liaising with the police over what further action should be taken.”

Her suspension will prevent the member for Standish from taking the Labour Whip and contributing to any ruling Labour group council business or decision-making.

But it doesn’t prevent her from continuing her duties as a councillor, holding surgeries for constituents or taking part in council meetings.

Earlier this week Coun McGurrin was suspended by Wigan Labour Group from sitting on the planning committee because of her alleged role in a housing development row in Standish.

She has yet to make any comment about either suspension. But she has always strenuously denied any expenses wrong doing, pointed out that council chiefs listed her entitlement before repeatedly signing it off and pledged that she will be eventually cleared.

A national Labour spokeswoman said that it was “unable to comment” on internal procedures.

But she did confirm: “An administrative suspension does not prevent the individual in question from continuing in their role as a councillor. This includes, for example, holding surgeries with constituents.”

Coun McGurrin, who was elected in May 2012, was suspended from the planning committee after taking part in “negotiations” with two regional residential developer giants which have now formally applied to build on the former Standish Court golf club site. The young councillor said she wanted to secure an increase in the number of affordable homes in the scheme because of the housing shortage facing young people in the village. And she said she was also working to persuade the potential developers to pledge to fund a leisure centre and sports facilities for the area’s teens.

But the council was already committed to blocking all further housing development in Standish with its revised Core Strategy masterplan, which has now been over turned by a Government inspector who has ruled a further 1,000 homes can be built.

Rival Standish Independent councillors George Fairhurst – a former member of the planning committee himself – and his son Coun Gareth Fairhurst, are known to have laid official complaints to the town hall about her allegedly inappropriate conduct.

There are strict rules governing how planning committee councillors conduct themselves in their dealings with developers.

Members are expected to remain impartial ahead of the decision-making.

Those who are said to have “fettered their discretion” by revealed support or opposition for a scheme ahead of its evaluation by the committee are then expected to declare it and to withdraw from the meeting and take no part in discussion over the application or any part in the eventual vote to approve or reject.

The expenses probe is examining alleged irregularities in her town hall expenses and specifically, costs the single mother has recovered for child care while on council duties.

Last year she was cleared of racially abusing an Asian taxi driver as her drove her home to Ince after a night out.

Council head of legal and risk John Mitchell confirmed to the Evening Post today: “All councillors will be advised at the next Full Council meeting that the Labour Group has withdrawn the nomination for Coun Emma McGurrin to be member of the Planning Committee.

“Wigan Council has not received any notification regarding Coun McGurrin’s position within the regional Labour Party.

“In any event, Coun McGurrin would remain an elected member and would still be entitled to attend Full Council and act as a ward councillor.”

Coun Gareth Fairhurst said that he has made a formal complaint to the council’s legal department about Coun McGurrin’s behaviour, asking for her to removed from the planning committee and her conduct investigated.

He said: “Residents are as outraged by Coun McGurrin’s comments and actions as I am.”