The opposition group at Bolton council has continued to press leader Cliff Morris over a ‘secret’ £300,000 grant awarded to a personal injury law firm. Following a fiery council meeting last week, the Conservative group has submitted an official list of questions to the council surrounding the grant to Asons Solicitors.

Last week the Gazette reported live from Bolton where the council backed the decision to award the grant and Morris defied calls for him to resign.

The grant was made under the council’s emergency powers procedure last month but questions over its secret nature and why it was made in the first place have been continuously raised.

The money was supposed to be used to help the firm renovate its new building but critics have pointed out the firm had already moved to its new offices at Newspaper House months before the grant was made.

Further, the firm’s accounts showed that it is in a dispute with HM Revenue & Customs over a £300,000 bill, though there is no evidence that the grant and the £300,000 demand are linked.

Conservative leader David Greenhalgh told the Gazette he was ‘appalled’ by the ruling Labour group’s response at full council, which he described as ‘typical diversionary tactics’.

The new questions include:

  • Why was the grant signed off and agreed in September when the works had been completed in August, if the purpose of the grant was to keep Asons in the town centre?
  • What due diligence was one before the grant was awarded, and who from the council undertook this work?
  • If due diligence was done, was the fact that Asons in its published accounts lost more than £1m; is in dispute with the inland revenue for £300,000 and claim in the notes to the accounts that the business model was under threat, taken into account?
  • When was the promise of money made to Asons, and when did the money actually change hands; and which specific Asons company account was the grant paid into?
  • What checks have been done by Asons that the money has been spent on the refurbishment costs?
  • What personal connections are there between Asons directors and executive members or councillors? 
  • Does the council think it is appropriate when money is tight to be handing over £300,000 to company whose director is claiming to have bought six Lamborghinis in four years?

Greenhalgh said the council’s chief executive has told him that answers should be available next week. ‘I have to say, there is a growing lack of trust, and I will be asking for supported evidence. I know this won’t go down well, but I think it has reached that point now,’ he added.

Asons declined to comment on the questions.