GREATER transparency is needed in local government to avoid a repeat of the high profile Cotswold Water Park fraud case.

That was the opinion of Professor Graham Garbutt who is leading an independent inquiry into the running of Cotswold Water Park Society (CWPS).

The society officially disbanded last year after it was revealed that former chief executive Dennis Grant had defrauded the organisation of £660,000.

In an initial report to Gloucestershire County Council’s audit committee earlier today, Prof Garbutt stressed that the investigation was independent from the society and no one on his team of legal advisors worked in Gloucestershire or had any connection with the Freemasons.

The independent review is investigating concerns and allegations regarding the way the society was set up and developed, how it was structured and governed as well as its financial relationship with GCC.

Around 40 people have been interviewed and a large number of files and emails have been scrutinised by for the investigation.

In his interim report, Prof Garbutt said the Water Park was an important asset locally, nationally and potentially internationally too, and it was important to learn lessons from what had happened for the future.

But he refused to discuss matters relating specifically to the CWPS until the full report was presented in March.

Instead he said in general GCC should be more accountable and transparent to members of the public, in particular regarding decisions of “value” which should be more consistently recorded.

“There needs to be an explicit culture of openness,” Prof Garbutt, former chief executive of Gloucester City Council, said.

GCC audit committee chairman Cllr Philip McLellan agreed that relevant information should not be withheld simply because a member of the public had not asked exactly the right question.

Prof Garbutt also suggested that a clear and common policy for the declaration of interests needed to be in place for both council officers and members, making reference to secret societies. “As it stands, it’s open to interpretation,” he said.

And he called for more clarity and consistency over delegation, disposal of property, ownership of joint ventures and the role and responsibilities of chief financial officers.

Prof Garbutt gave thanks to GCC for its support in the review and also paid tribute to new members of Cotswold Water Park Trust, which replaced CWPS, who he said were working hard to make sure mistakes were not repeated.

The full report will be completed over February and presented to the audit committee in early March.