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Ex Mayor in voting storm

A CABBIE has raised concerns about former mayor Cllr Charles Choudhary's decision not to declare an interest as a taxi licence holder in Waverley, following a vote on the issue of Rushmoor licences.

Roger Watkins, a taxi driver for more than 18 years, said: "Cllr Choudhary is a competitor. You can't work a taxi in Weyborne and Farnham without having cross border interests, and if that's not a vested interest, then what is?"

He argued the financial burdens on taxi drivers in Rushmoor were much higher than those in Waverley and this was forcing taxis in the borough out of business.

"We drive more expensive vehicles, which are more costly to run, yet our fares are much lower. It's in his interests to see us go out of business," he said.

Of 166 taxi drivers in Rushmoor, 124 had signed a petition asking the council to temporarily stop issuing new taxi licenses because the number of taxis in the borough outweighed the demand.

Taxi Trade Board (TTB) representative Terry Dee put forward their case at the licensing and general purposes committee meeting.

Cllr Choudhary took part in the debate and voted without informing fellow committee members of his interest, which is listed on the register of member's interests.

He later defended his position, saying: "I took advice from a council solicitor before the meeting. She said not to worry. There was no need to declare the interest because I work in Farnham, not in Rushmoor, so I can't have an interest in the livelihoods of the taxi trade in the Rushmoor area."

Karen Limmer, council solicitor, confirmed: "He did seek my advice on whether it was possible to be a member of the committee, and I said it was. If he is a taxi driver in Waverley with no interest in Rushmoor then there is no interest to declare.

"It is a matter for each councillor to decide them selves, but if he does have an interest he must declare it."

Waverley taxi driver Cllr Tony Gardiner said: "I always err on the side of caution and declare an interest and leave meetings."

Cllr Gardiner was not at this meeting as he is not a member of that committee, but added: "I find it very difficult at times to decide whether I have an interest. But as a councillor you must make the decision. An officer can only give their advice."

Issues relating to councillors' interests are covered by the code of conduct, adopted by local authorities. The Standards Board for England investigates breaches of the code.

Councillors must register this type of interest at the council and declare it before the relevant item is discussed at any meeting.

Only the ethical standards officer can decide whether a breach of the code of conduct has occurred.

Before the SBE can act it must have received a complaint which it believes is serious enough to warrant investigation.

The meeting voted seven to four in favour of postponing a decision until a report by the Office of Fair Trading on the taxi trade was published.

Cllr Choudhary voted with the majority, against the taxi driver's request for a temporary halt to the issue of more licenses.

The final decision will be made by the cabinet this evening when the TTB will have another opportunity to put its case.

This is the second time this year that Rushmoor coun-cillors have been involved in such a controversey. In January, the Standards Board found Aldershot councillor Sue Dibble in breach of the code after she failed to declare an interest in a planning application. Council deputy leader Peter Moyle said he was happy with the current council policy for making councillors aware of their obligations.


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