Peer makes official complaint about Ben Houchen

Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven has made an official complaint to Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) regarding mayor Ben Houchen’s refusal to declare a business trip to Albania on his register of interests.

Lord Scriven, is the former leader of Sheffield Council and has sat in the House of Lords since 2014, has written to TVCA to make a complaint about the newly-ennobled Conservative mayor. It comes as the result of a Yorkshire Post story which revealed the soon-to-be Lord Houchen of High Leven has not declared a business trip to Albania taken in 2022 despite his claims that the trip was paid for by Tirana International Airport (TIA).

Ben Houchen took the trip to Tirana in June 2022 and claims that although it was arranged by TVCA, it was paid for by TIA. According to its constitution, all members and officers of TVCA must declare offers of gifts or hospitality above the price of £25 whether they’re accepted or not.

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On Mr Houchen’s most recent declaration of interests form, from August 2022, it states that all gifts and hospitality are “as disclosed, past and present, to the Electoral Commission.”

Lord Scriven has made a formal complaint to Tees Valley Combined Authority about its mayor, Ben Houchen.Lord Scriven has made a formal complaint to Tees Valley Combined Authority about its mayor, Ben Houchen.
Lord Scriven has made a formal complaint to Tees Valley Combined Authority about its mayor, Ben Houchen.

As an elected mayor, in addition to his own authority’s rules, Mr Houchen must also comply with Electoral Commission rules regarding donations. If gifts or hospitality, including overseas visits, are paid for by somebody else, the donee must calculate the cost based on commercial rates.

A nominal value of £1,455.76 for the trip was calculated by TVCA and does not meet the Electoral Commission’s threshold of £1,500 to register gifts or hospitality.

Lord Scriven’s complaint to TVCA is about the alleged breach of their own rules, specifically that Mr Houchen refers to the Electoral Commission’s register of interests as opposed to declaring offers of gifts.

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The Yorkshire Post has seen advice provided to TVCA at the time by its then-Monitoring Officer which argues the trip did not need to be declared since it was a “gift to the organisation not the individuals.”

TVCA’s Monitoring Officer at the time this advice was given left their post in November 2022.

Local authorities are obliged to have a Monitoring Officer whose role is “to report on matters they believe to be illegal or amount to maladministration, to be responsible for matters relating to the conduct of councillors and officers and, to be responsible for the operation of the council’s constitution.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post about his complaint, Lord Scriven said: "It is important that senior leaders in local government uphold the code of conduct that they sign up to abide by on being elected.

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“It appears on the evidence so far that Mayor Houchen may have breached the rules on declaring gifts and hospitality over the value of £25.

“These rules ensure that local tax payers are aware of who is paying to entertain or supply travel or gifts to Mayor Houchen and other senior people at the Combined Authority and that in their public duties any potential conflicts can be identified. It is a very serious breach of these rules if such declarations are not made.

“I have asked for a full investigation by the standards board to establish all the facts and to see if a breach has happened."

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