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Brentwood Share Fund – Scrutiny vice chair’s view

by Cllr Karen Chilvers on December 12, 2012

#sharefundcallin

Well, the good news is that the Community Groups that were promised a grant from the Brentwood Share Fund will get their money.

But not before the most bizarre meeting took place last night – a meeting at which I was asked to Vice Chair in a cross-party bench situation with conservative Cllr David Tee as Chair.

The situation was that a number of local community groups had been awarded money at the Asset Panel (chaired by Cllr Russell Quirk) and then three Tory councillors (Cllr Will Russell (Brentwood West), the Mayor Cllr Ann Coe (South Weald) and Cllr Roger McCheyne (Brizes & Doddinghurst) called in that decision.

Unfortunately, this meant that all the money that had been awarded to the groups (including the Sensory Garden in King George’s Park and Recoil Twisters) was in jeopardy and suspended until the outcome of the Overview & Scrutiny Panel last night.

Now the thing is, you may have seen that Cllr Quirk is somewhat “at odds” with the Tory administration.  Well, when I say “at odds” I mean full-on open warfare…..and this is relevant.

You see, I am rather of the opinion that the three councillors were used as stooges by the leader or one of hers to call in a decision made at Cllr Quirk’s panel to undermine him.  I think that is a shame and I am particularly saying this because when I outlined the fact that ALL the funding was now in doubt due to the call in and the options available to the Scrutiny committee, there were some very shocked faces amongst these three.  For clarity there were three options – no further action or referral back to Asset Panel or up to Full Council.

Cllr Russell and Cllr Coe say that felt they had to do this for the conscience and yet were very unsure of what they were actually doing – nor was the mystery complaining bidder ever named.

The three also tried to make it more dramatic by saying there had been an allegation of corruption, except no one ever outlined what this allegation was and, as Lib Dem Cllr Phil Mynott pointed out, we often hear this and ask under what grounds.  But no information on this is forthcoming.  There is a separate process for this and it doesn’t involve calling in a decision.

The grounds it was actually called in were lack of information and that due process had not been followed.

But here’s my summary, after extensive investigation with officers and my own evidence gathering:

  • No material change in the process employed in Round 1 of the bidding to Round 2 (and it wasn’t called in after Round 1)
  • The senior officer was experienced in such processes
  • The process was sound
  • The agenda and background papers were circulated in accordance with normal procedures and there was plenty of information on which to base a decision
  • Councillors did not ask questions or ask for further details on the bids after the publication of the agenda
  • There was a big file in the members room at the council full of the submitted bids but this was only requested by councillors in the period between the call in (last Thursday) and the call-in meeting and not in the run-up to the Asset Panel where the original decision was made.  They can do it now, but they couldn’t do it then?
  • There was a real lack of debate about the bids themselves at the meeting and no councillors asked for a change to the recommendations or tabled an alternative recommendation.

So, I moved that there should be no further action and that the original decision should stand, allocating the monies as agreed.  To my utter shock in the most ironic thing I have ever witnessed, two of those who called the decision in raised their hand to second my motion for a vote!  However, it was indeed Cllr Julie Morrissey from Labour who got in first to second me.

So there you have it – there are two warring factions within the Tory party and they are playing politics with your council resources now when they should be keeping this sort of nonsense in their group room.  I don’t know which lot is worse to be honest, but the people of Brentwood would prefer a cohesive party that work together for the good of Brentwood.  You won’t get that with the Tories in Brentwood – they are in meltdown.  That’s probably why the people of Shenfield made a very sensible decision to elect Liberal Democrat Cllr Liz Cohen last week.

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  1. [...] Last month, for only the second time in about ten years, a committee decision was called in for scrutiny by the Overview & Scrutiny committee.  A full report is here. [...]

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