NORMAN CALLS IN THE AUDITORS - 'SEAFORD TOWN COUNCIL OUT OF CONTROL'
January 20 2014.
Local MP Norman Baker has stepped in to protect local taxpayers and residents in the town following a string of chaotic problems involving the Conservative-controlled council. He has written to the District Auditor, asking for an urgent investigation into the running and finances of the town council.
Norman says: “I do not normally intervene in such matters but the state of chaos and mismanagement at Seaford Town Council is such that it cannot be allowed to deteriorate further. I owe it my constituents in what is the biggest town in my constituency to take action. That’s why I have written to the independent District Auditor to ask for an urgent investigation.
Norman's Top Ten Concerns:
1. Serious allegations of bullying from town council staff who say they were forced out, leading to a very rapid turnover of staff. Two came to see the MP at his surgery only last Saturday.
2. The almost endemic failure of the council to answer letters from other elected representatives in the town, from clubs and societies, and from ordinary members of the public
3. Huge delays in dealing with relatively simple administrative matters such as the lease for the Seaford Museum which has now been outstanding for almost a year, putting at risk around £400,000 of external grants
4. The delegation of an extraordinary amount of decision-making to the town clerk to an extent that the MP calls “unwise and undemocratic.”
5. Endemic infighting within the controlling Conservative group, most recently involving the Mayor Anthony White, who, after a meeting with the council leader and town clerk, resigned suddenly two-thirds through his mayoral year ostensibly through “ill-health”. Just a week later, last Thursday, yet another Tory councillor, Rita Scarfe, resigned from the council, adding to the litany of Tory resignations since the last election, causing the town a series of expensive by-elections.
6. Spiralling costs to the taxpayer from Hurdis House, the council-owned building in Broad Street that has now been sitting empty for years.
7. A huge potential bill being racked up at the council-owned Seaford Head Golf Club.
8. A proposal for a council tax increase of almost 10% for the next financial year starting in April.
9. The introduction of new Standing Order that gag councillors, even telling them they cannot use the title “councillor” when they write to the local media, without first securing the Town Clerk’s permission.
10. The abandonment of the council meeting last week because a member of public, perfectly legally, wanted to film the meeting, despite the fact that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is taking through Parliament new laws explicitly to give the public such rights.
Seaford’s Lib Dem county councillor Carolyn Lambert adds: “The council does not appear to want to operate openly and democratically and seems to be answerable to nobody, least of all the residents of the town. When I have tried to raise matters, I have been treated with rudeness by council leader Ian White and have had emails asking for information simply ignored. If a duly elected councillor is being treated in this way, what hope is there for the ordinary resident?”
Town councillor Sarah McStravick adds: “I am very concerned in particular the way Seaford Museum has been treated. They have worked hard to secure grants of around £400,000, which would secure specialist and iconic disability access, to the Martello Tower, which the planning committee welcomed in the autumn of 2013. Yet all that could be lost just because the town council has failed since April to act and to inform the Councillors that the lease had expired.”
UKIP town councillor Alan Latham says: “I expected thanks for my assistance in resolving the severely delayed renewal of the Martello Museum lease which expired in June last year and the risk of losing a heritage lottery grant as a consequence. I was surprised instead to find my actions rebuked and the subject of a formal agenda item for disciplinary action at a full council meeting. I would welcome any further action which should include an open and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to my breach of protocol and an evaluation of the failures in leadership and administration of the Council.”
Stephen Gauntlett who is a Councillor for both Seaford Town Council and Lewes District Council says: "I am very concerned that Seaford Town Council papers for decision making are often obscure and difficult to understand compared with the completeness and clarity of Lewes documentation. The recent STC paper on the Precept rise did not specify the percentage rise or the old precept nor why, in simple terms, any increase was necessary! This required me and others to hunt around in a mass of numbers which suggests that the original intention was to make the information opaque."
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