SHIPTONTHORPE TURMOIL – 6. Damning Update from Councillor

At the meeting of Shiptonthorpe Parish Council on 21 September 2023 Cllr David Gough gave an update on his research into the lease renewal process for the Village Hall.

I am told that there was silence after his presentation and those present seemed shocked at what he had discovered. It sounded as if the former council were planning all sorts of changes which would make life difficult for the village hall management committee and were so draconian that they could eventually lead to the halls closure. Thanks to Cllr Gough’s meticulous attention to detail and extensive research it sounded like he had the former clerk and councillors banged to rights.

As always there are two sides of any story. This is the other side.

DG = Cllr David Gough

DG: “The clerk said that Harrowells had told her that everything about the lease had to be kept secret.”
The clerk has told me she did not speak to Harrowells about keeping anything secret. As she was not an expert in lease renewal, she did ask fellow clerks and the ERNLLCA (East Riding and Northern Lincolnshire Local Councils Association) for advice and all agreed that discussions about a lease should be discussed in confidence until a decision is reached by full council.

DG: “The Information Commissioner states that the default position for anything like this is openness. Always assume there’s a public interest”.
The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 Sec 1 (2) states “A body may, by resolution, exclude the public from a meeting due to the confidential nature of the business to be transacted. This will include the consideration of tenders, leases, staffing matters and purchases of assets”.

DG: “We were told there were no notes no agendas because it was all done verbally. There are memos there are agendas there are e mails on this very subject”.
Working Parties do not have to follow the same strict procedures as full council or a subcommittee. They do not need to have an agenda or minutes because they cannot make decisions only report back to the full council.
To date and, despite numerous requests from me, only two documents have been released by the current council. No agendas or minutes have yet been produced for public consumption. Cllr Gough has not replied to any of my e mails.

DG: “There were massive obstacles put in the way of finding out the truth, there has been extensive secrecy”.
Members of the village hall committee were invited to attend the meeting of the lease working group, but they chose not to attend. If the working group was trying to keep discussions secret, they weren’t very good at it.

DG: “Why have Harrowells been selected to review the lease because you would normally get comparative quotes”.
Powell and Young, now Harrowells have been solicitors to Shiptonthorpe Parish Council for as long as anyone can remember. Chairman Victor Lambert has confirmed to me that no guidance exists that compels a council to re appoint solicitors.

DG: “The working group discussed reducing the term of the lease from 40 to 15 years”. recommends that a lease should be for a period of not more than 35 years, with no option to renew. Many county councils recommend a duration of 21 years because it is difficult to anticipate what might happen 20 years ahead. The former councillors have told me they were going to settle on 40 years.

DG: “At the working party meeting on 26 October 2022 they decided to put restrictions on the use of the village hall”.
He is referring to this note – “Priority must be given for Shiptonthorpe residents and organisations”.

DG: “A copy of the draft lease was typed up by the clerk with notes on it about the term and restrictions and sent to the solicitors”.
The clerk has no experience of drawing up a lease. The lease was drawn up 40 years ago so does not exist as a digital file. The original document was typed on an old typewriter and was difficult to read in places. The clerk thought it would be helpful for everyone and save time if she transcribed the document as a ‘Word’ document so that comments could easily be added.

DG: “I was not initially allowed to speak to the solicitors. I suspected this was to placate the clerk”.
According to the ‘National Association of Local Councils’
“Councillors should not involve themselves in the day to day running of the council. This is the officer’s responsibility”.

DG: “The clerk wrote to the solicitors on 1st July without the knowledge of the chairman or anyone else”.
A clerk is responsible for administration and financial affairs and does not need to seek permission for every letter or e mail they write. On this occasion the former clerk felt she needed to write the letter to protect herself. As proper officer of the council she should have been involved with lease negotiations, but the new council removed her authority to do so. Even though technically she was legally responsible and could later be held to account for any issues.

DG: “The chairman asked me to look after the lease”.
As previously stated, councillors should not become involved in admin work.

DG: “In the letter to the clerk mentioned the desire to advertise the lease. Why on earth would you do that?”
The former clerk has told me it was not the desire to advertise the lease. After conducting research and looking at other similar lease arrangements she wanted to abide by ‘best practice’ and did not want to create future problems for the council. There are many documents online from other councils who include advertising the lease in a standard template. Just because there is currently only one group in the village interested in leasing the hall does not mean that will always be the case.

DG: “When we did see the draft new lease, it included the need for an energy performance certificate”.
On behalf of the council the clerk asked the solicitors to update the lease to reflect current legislation and ‘best practice’. Neither the clerk nor any councillor suggested including an EPC certificate. The draft lease had been updated to include current legislation. It was a draft lease, and no one was anywhere near approving it yet.

DG: “Restrictions placed on how the village hall was to be operated. It’s only one line but the impact would have been devastating”.
Cllr Gough did not and has not explained what this devastating restriction was.

DG: “There was no mandate for what had been proposed because it hadn’t come from the charity it had come from the council”.
In my opinion he might have a point here but…. the sole trustee of ‘Shiptonthorpe Parish Charity’ is Shiptonthorpe Parish Council. If councillors had ended their council meeting and then reconvened as the ‘Shiptonthorpe Parish Charity’ that might have avoided this endless turmoil. It might also have been helpful if they had written to the solicitor as the ‘Shiptonthorpe Parish Charity’. However, exactly the same people would have been involved so would there have been any difference? The only one I can think of is that if they met as a charity, they would not need to share any information about their meetings and decisions with anyone. Cllr Gough is arguing about process here.

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