Ex-Derby North MP Chris Williamson defends rent free council office

Chris Williamson Image copyright Labour Party
Image caption Chris Williamson said he feels no guilt over Derby City Council's decision as his foundation provides an "important service" in the city

A former MP has defended a council's decision to waive the rent on his office - worth up to £9,000 a year.

Ex-Derby North Labour MP Chris Williamson set up the Derby Rights and Representation Foundation to offer help and advice to residents.

The decision was made by a Derby City Council director under "delegated powers", meaning it did not need to be reported to a public meeting.

Politicians have called for more transparency from the authority.

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The BBC discovered the details through a Freedom of Information request.

The decision to allow Mr Williamson's organisation to have a rent-free office in the city's Eagle Market comes after the council scrapped funding for 34 charities and cut funding for the city's Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

Current Derby North MP, the Conservative Amanda Solloway, said the council has a duty "to provide detail of how this decision has been made and the justification for it".

"Questions need to be asked as to why the CAB, who are suitably qualified and placed to provide an advocacy service, has had its doors closed because of a decision made by Derby City Council. Only for the same authority to grant concessions to an organisation with a similar offering," she said.

Chris Doidge, BBC Radio Derby political reporter

There's no suggestion Chris Williamson has done anything wrong in asking Derby City Council to waive his rent.

But there are calls from all sides of the political spectrum for more transparency over the council's decision.

Labour's opponents - and some of its own members - want assurances that elected members of the council weren't lobbying behind the scenes.

Mr Williamson accused Ms Solloway of "trying to make a cheap party political point".

"I went to officers and asked the question about whether we could have a peppercorn rent to help to get the organisation going," Mr Williamson, who confirmed he does not take a salary from the organisation, said.

"The council, as I understand it, still provides a considerable degree of assistance to the CAB, much greater than the amount of rent that is being waived from the organisation.

"I don't feel guilty at all because we're providing an important service in the city."

Image caption Ex Labour MP Chris Williamson lost his Derby North seat to Amanda Solloway at the 2015 general election

The council said the foundation is on a flexible tenancy at a peppercorn rent - confirmed at zero.

It said no changes to the tenancy are planned while the council attempts to sell Eagle Market to shopping giant Intu.

The authority did not address why it decided to waive the foundation's rent.

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