Misleading town hall leaflet may deprive six councillors of their right to vote
Six members of Marlborough town council may have prejudiced their right to vote on the project to revamp the town hall by issuing a misguided leaflet that undermines the council’s consultation process.
Wiltshire Council has been asked for guidance on whether the leaflet breaks the councillors’ Code of Conduct and, if so, could bar the six Tory councillors from voting on the scheme after the consultation results have been evaluated.
That is on the basis that they have prejudiced their right to play a part in any future decisions on the outcome of the consultation by giving their pre-determined views and by putting out information that is considered false and misleading.
The code, which upholds the need for democratic debate on issues, does inform councillors: “Dishonest and deceitful behaviour in your role as a member may bring your authority into disrepute” is not sanctioned.
Nor is predetermination if it can be proved that councillors have “a closed mind when making a decision.”
The six councillors who have signed the leaflet imploring residents to “say No to the scheme” are Stewart Dobson, Tony Spranger, Margaret Rose, Robin Notton, Noel Barrett-Morton, and Marian Hannaford-Dobson.
Their leaflet, on pale blue paper printed by Devizes Conservative Association, is being distributed through letterboxes well ahead of the end of the consultation period, which lasts until December 31.
It declares: “We, your Conservative councillors, believe you should know THE FACTS.”
Now they have been challenged in a statement issued by Councillor Richard Pitts, who told Marlborough News Online: “The claims made in the leaflet are rubbish.”
“There is no intention whatsoever that any increase will be made to the town council’s precept, due to the town hall project.”
“The project will cost £11,000 a year and that sum is totally accounted for within the council’s annual budget of £400,000. The project costs are offset by savings of £38,000 that will be made. So the fears being raised are without foundation.”
He also points out that the town council is not a business and should not be treated as if it makes a profit or a loss.
“If we considered the running of the town hall on that basis, then it would not be viable and if it was a business then you could say we ought to pull the place down and invest our money elsewhere.”
Mr Pitts is a member of the 10 CanDo group of town councillors who reject the negative attitude of the six Tory members, who have campaigned against the town hall revamp since it was first mooted.
“Whilst the CanDo group welcome open debate, this leaflet is factually incorrect,” he declared. “I cannot stand by and allow this to go un-corrected, as it is so wrong and will impact the public consultation if ignored.”
And in his detailed rebuttal of the leaflet (see below) Mr Pitts accuses the Tory councillors of creating a “fog of confusion” by “force-feeding” residents with misinformation.
“As only one out of six the facts in the leaflet are correct, and one is not a FACT at all, this town deserve the real facts.”
The Leaflet claims:
“FACT 1 CARRY OUT NON ESSENTIAL ALTERATIONS, that is not a fact that is an opinion. Since, this council was elected in 2007 the town hall had grown to be a 60,000 a year index-linked white elephant, and doing nothing to make better use of the building will not change that.”
“The do nothing option favoured by these councillors will cost the taxpayers even more money. The work that has been carried out so far by the CanDo councillors on this council have improved access to the court room, by gaining grant funding and increased over all use of the town hall.”
“FACT 2 The £1 Million is only an estimate and does not include professional fees. WRONG! The costed project of £1,007,000 does include professional fees.”
“The figures quoted in the consultation document have been professionally produced by an independent qualified quantity surveyor, and fully include the industry standard allowance for professional fees.”
“FACT 3 Loan repayments are approximately £50,000 for the next 50 years. CORRECT! At an interest rate of 4.35 per cent. The project costs are offset by the savings made, therefore reducing the general operating costs of the council.”
“Do not forget the £49,000 annual loan repayments are offset by £38,000 in savings achievable through the proposals, meaning a net cost to the taxpayers of £11,000 (fixed) per year. This will diminish over time as inflation reduces its net effect.”
“FACT 4 The town hall makes a loss. WRONG! The town hall is a public building it does not make a LOSS it costs at present £60,000, as I said it could be considered a white elephant.”
“However, it is run for the good of the community, the town hall is an asset that the town council has to manage on behalf of the people of this town, managing historic buildings costs money. This proposal is about making better and more efficient use of a building that will be here for the next 100 years, at an increased cost to run.”
“The do nothing option is the financially irresponsible option. If we can rent it out to recoup some of the operating costs all to the good. Every community body who wants to use the town hall never wants to pay for it.”
“Applying a business model in the traditional sense does not make sense, making full and regular use of an energy efficient cost effective building does! Public Works Loans are designed to provide affordable finance to councils to allow them to develop their communities.”
“This project will simulate and enhance employment and local business in the area.”
“FACT 5 The loan repayments will only add to the annual loss and reduce other spending. WRONG! The council has given a clear commitment that it will accommodate the financing of this project within existing council tax levels.”
“There will be no council tax increase as a result of this proposal. It will not impact on other services that the council may wish to pursue, for example the flood alleviation scheme. “Next year’s council tax proposals will allow the council to proceed with this project should it chose to do so and subject to the consultation, as well as the Flood Alleviation Scheme without increasing your council tax.”
“FACT 6 No Detailed business or financial viability plan has been produced to justify this loan. WRONG! These councillors treat the public with contempt by force feeding them misinformation.”
“I am sure the public see through this fog of confusion and understand the CanDo councillors are acting in the best interests of the town. The council has published the headline figures in the leaflet and the bottom line repayment costs.”
“The CanDo councillors would not be such Muppets as to not have these headline figures underpinned by real data. There is a detailed document produced by an independent qualified quantity surveyor which supports the whole proposal, it is lengthy and complex, but freely available on request.”
“The CanDo councillors have attracted over £250,000 in project grants since the council came to power in 2007. The list of successful projects completed, are matter of public record.”
“The package of work to the town hall will dramatically change the way the council functions focusing on the town hall and makes available to the community the full facilities of the building.”