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Essex County Council cabinet member resigns role over register of interests

Essex County Hall

Essex County Hall

A senior Essex county councillor has resigned from his cabinet position after questions were raised about his role in awarding a contract to a company he is chairman of.

Derrick Louis, Essex county councillor for Witham SouthDerrick Louis, Essex county councillor for Witham South

Derrick Louis, cabinet member for transformation and property at County Hall, has said he was not involved in the decision and denied any deliberate wrong-doing over his register of interests, but has stepped down to protect his colleagues from embarrassment.

The decision to award the lifestyles contract – worth £9.8million over five years for weight management and stop smoking services – to Provide, a community interest company of which Mr Louis is non-executive chairman of, should have been approved by cabinet, though officers are now checking if this took place.

Labour councillors questioned why Mr Louis’ role at Provide was not declared and if he had any influence in who won the contract.

The contract was not part of Mr Louis’ cabinet portfolio.

Mr Louis said: “This follows a period of reflection over the Christmas holidays after it came to light my register of interests was not fully up to date.

“Although these omissions were not deliberate and were an oversight on my part I feel it appropriate I should leave cabinet as it is my wish that no harm or speculation should surround the Conservative administration, especially at this time when despite increasing financial pressure my colleagues are delivering outstanding services.

“After reviewing my register of interests, while I have ensured it is now up to date I realise it has been some months since I updated it and circumstances have changed which I had not registered. Some of these took place whilst I was mobilised to serve as part of the Army in Afghanistan.

“This is purely my fault and it was an oversight which I deeply regret.

“I can state categorically I had no role whatsoever in the procurement or award of that contract and did not in any way seek to influence the decision or the process.

“However, whilst I have not done anything dishonest I have no wish to cause the leader, my cabinet colleagues or my Conservative group any embarrassment.

“I now look forward to returning to the backbenches and continuing to serve the people of Witham South as I have been proud to do for more than 10 years.”

David Finch, county council leader, said he was sad at the decision and thanked Mr Louis for his “invaluable” service.

He added: “I am clear we as leading politicians have to be beyond reproach in our private and business lives and must conduct ourselves to the highest standards.

“It is a true mark of the strength of character of Mr Louis he has taken this step voluntarily especially when you consider this has been a simple omission and nothing more. However, he will be the first to admit we must be open and transparent at all times.”

The county council’s corporate scrutiny committee will discuss the contract award at a meeting tomorrow.

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