THE Conservative candidate for the new Tiverton and Minehead seat has issued a scathing attack against Mid Devon District Council’s troubled 3 Rivers Developments housing firm and the way the district council oversaw it.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, but who is standing for the new Tiverton and Minehead constituency at the next election, raised the issue on the final day of parliament before Christmas.

The company, which is wholly-owned by Mid Devon District Council, is to close once it has completed two projects in Tiverton and Bampton, and was  the subject of a “lessons learned” report by the district authority’s scrutiny committee.

The report, which made 10 recommendations for steps that should be taken if a similar company is launched again, highlighted missteps that contributed to 3 Rivers’ difficulties.

These included a lack of relevant expertise on the board, conflicts of interest because some board members also worked for the council, and risk aversion hampering the company’s competitiveness and ability to make quick decisions.

“As we know, companies need to react fast. Their shareholders do not forgive very readily,” Mr Liddell-Grainger told the Westminster debate.

“Most of the time local governments can only go very slowly, and in the slow lane.

“They have very little in common with companies, and often do not even speak the same language, or even understand who is in charge of business investments.

“After eager councils jumped on [the chance to launch companies], it all turned sour. Time and time again we have seen it fail.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger added that a recent report by credit rating firm Moody’s showed that 20 local authorities “from across the political divide are at a serious risk of going broke.”

He continued: “Almost all of them tried investing in business ventures that collapsed.”

An investigation by the House of Commons public accounts committee recently revealed that local authorities had spent £7.6 billion on commercial investments since 2016.

Where these investments end up costing councils more than anticipated, or the returns are not as high as expected, this can add pressure to already-squeezed finances.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said he had recently confirmed that Mid Devon District Council was prepared to lend 3 Rivers £21.3 million, which he called “seriously big money for a council of that size.”

Commenting on Mid Devon’s “lessons learned” report, the MP called it a “limp-wristed effort to get to some of the truth”.

“It is lip service,” he said.

“The committee did not launch a proper searching inquiry. It never attempted to find the rates or name the guilty. It failed to perform a forensic examination of all the evidence. And it was told not to interview everybody.

“This is a saga of wasted opportunity, of council officials wielding enormous influence of councillors, letting them down, then falling out with the whole council.

“It is a disgrace.”

Mid Devon’s scrutiny committee heard last month from the working group of four councillors that produced the report.

The working group’s chair, Cllr Gordon Czapiewski (Liberal Democrat, Tiverton Lowman), acknowledged it had not been possible to interview everyone who had experience of the company since its launch in 2017, or to scrutinise every document, but that the relevant material was made available to the working group.

Some members of the public have attended council meetings to ask for further investigations into 3 Rivers. But council leader Luke Taylor (Liberal Democrat, Bradninch) said at last month’s council meeting that he was satisfied with the “lessons learned” report and that no further investigations would be undertaken.

Bradley Gerrard