At a special budget meeting held on the 19th January at the Guildhall, Dartmouth Town Councillors voted to increase their precept demands from SHDC by 64%. The reason given was primarily to cover the increased costs likely to arise from the transfer of assets from South Hams District Council. As a result of this decision two Councillors, Cllr Richard Rendle and Cllr Les Barnes have resigned. Cllr Rendle resigned because he believed the idea of increasing the precept by 64% was ‘absolutely crazy’ and Cllr Barnes because he was disillusioned by the ‘unprofessional way in which the Council has been led, culminating in its decision to award the Mayflower 400 group £40,000 of public money, despite warnings that the Councils reserves are severely depleted’. He added ‘I cannot condone these payments knowing that we have Councillors and their families heavily involved in this group.’
Dartmouth Business News has to say it admires the conviction, and supports the views of, Cllrs Rendle and Barnes and wants to outline the questions we will be asking of councillor’s at the next Council meeting on the 6th of February.
Q1 Why will it be more expensive for Dartmouth Town Council to maintain the transferred assets than South Hams District Council? Dartmouth’s rate payers already pay for the maintenance of these assets under ownership of SHDC through their rates so it is hard to understand why transferring the assets to DTC ownership should result in an increase in precept. We understood that the agreement involves SHDC paying an agreed sum of £150,000 to DTC in the first year, reducing over 5 years to zero. If this transfer of funds is not enough to pay for the maintenance of these assets then why was this agreement accepted by DTC. If it is enough to cover the costs then why should the precept also be increased to cover those costs? Note: We can see from the Finance committee minutes of the 29th November that the actual cost of maintaining the assets is £250,000. See the following extract from the minutes:
‘The Mayor reported on a meeting held at Follaton House on 25th November 2016 with Steve Jorden the Chief Executive of South Hams District Council and Chris Brook Asset Lead Manager for South Hams District Council, on the proposed transfer of assets to Dartmouth Town Council. A proposal from the Town Council showed total annual costs of approximately £250,000 and the Town Council had asked that £150,000 of these costs be met by South Hams District Council in the first year.’
So it is clear we will have a burden of £100,000 in the first year growing to £250,000 by year 5. In that case why do we not just say NO to the transfer of Assets request?
Q2 When the BID company was closed the Council was asked (by Brian Boughton, I believe) if they would step in and provide funding that the BID should have provided had it continued. The reply was a clear NO. However when the Mayflower 400 group, lead by the past Chairman of the failed BID, asked for £40,000 funding for the project the Council approved this expenditure. The Mayflower 400 project is right in the middle of the BID strategic plan and would have received significant support from Dartmouth traders through the BID levy to ensure it was a great success. In agreeing to this funding then the Council have failed to keep their promise not to financially support BID projects.
Q3 Alongside the above questions we feel that the backup information to justify these expenditures is not there. DB News has seen the papers presented to the Council by Mayflower 400 and believes they were hopelessly inadequate. They contained no detailed breakdown of the costs of individual activities and no analysis of the likely financial benefit to Dartmouth’s economy. There was also barely any mention of the Marketing plans for this project which we believe will play a key part in benefiting the Dartmouth economy. The poor performance of the BID in delivering key marketing projects, managing budgets and communicating with levy payers leads us to believe that this project will suffer from the same deficiencies unless the Council insists on proper controls and reporting from the team.
Lets hope the Council will be able to answer these questions at the next council meeting.
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