14 December 2010

Somerton Town Council meeting - 7:30pm, Tuesday 14th December 2010

At the start of the meeting the Chair read out a prepared statement:
"As the result of an objection to the accounts of Somerton Town Council for the year 2008/9 by an elector, an investigation was launched by the Audit Commission who appointed an external auditor which is Moore Stephens to prepare a detailed analysis and report. The information was sent to the Council in a lengthy document titled 'statement of facts' which was shown to and discussed by all members in a series of briefings in July.

The external auditor had already held preliminary meetings with representatives from Avon & Somerset Police, and that is what is known as the Economic Crime Unit, and as a result of further information revealed in the 'statement of facts', a formal meeting with the same unit was requested by Somerton Town Council which took place at the end of August.

The Police Authorities examined the material supplied by the auditor and in mid-October informed us that they would be launching a formal investigation. This investigation started on the 2nd December and it is our understanding that three people were arrested, taken into custody for questioning and released on Police Bail without charge. A 4th person was arrested on Monday 13th and again was released on Police Bail without charge.

The investigation is ongoing and it is inappropriate for Somerton Town Council to make any comment. This means I will not answer any questions directly relating to the investigation and would remind the press and media that the sole spokesperson for the Council on this matter is Cllr Austin, chairman of the Communications Committee.

Finally, to clear any misunderstanding on external auditor's costs, the final bill totals £24,000. This is not an insignificant amount but not the £35,000 plus quoted in the local press and even more, anecdotally, in the town. As it stands at present, we will then have no further liability.

Lastly, if I could, on behalf of members, thank Paul Austin who has been fielding and acting as spokesman on our behalf whilst this matter has been going on and if I could please re-iterate, I will not answer any questions regarding the Police investigation."

Following the Chair's statement an early highlight was a statement by County Cllr Jimmy Zouche regarding the cuts being imposed at County. In summary, Jimmy doesn't know what's happening but, when he does, he'll let us know. Declaration of Interests was followed by Previous Minutes, Matters Arising, Finance (cheque signing etc) and Correspondence where Cllr Neale raised a question about a letter written to .......... Niall Connolly. He seemed inordinately interested in this letter, causing the Chair to read it out. Essentially it informed Niall Connolly that he was saying naughty things about the Town Clerk and the Assistant to the Town Clerk and that Niall Connolly should stop it at once. Now, as this letter was written to me, and being someone who believes in a 'Right to Reply', I did ask the Chair if he could read out my reply. Fortunately, a copy of my letter was unavailable and I think that's a good thing because I don't want to cause the Town Clerk or the Assistant to the Town Clerk any further embarrassment by having my rather robust and pointed response read out in public. But there again..............

The meeting moved swiftly along to Committee Reports then Casual Worker, Youth Club Grants then to Precept where Cllr Barrie Davies read out a schedule indicating those items that were changing in the coming year's Precept. The long and the short of it is that the Town Council is estimating that the Precept will rise by some £15,000 in the next financial year and the rise will be a direct consequence of the cuts in funding at County. Given the fact that County have not, as yet, fully quantified the cuts or their impact (or, as Cllr Thomas pointed out, done the impact assessments which are a legal obligation) it is possible that the Town Council may have to increase the Precept further just to stand still. And remember dear readers, that the Precept is added to your Council Tax bill so now you are going to pay twice for services because of the cuts imposed at County level. So don't complain to the Town Council, go and see Jimmy Z or, better still, Twitter a flash-demo at David Heath's next surgery. I should also add that Cllr Davies has done a pretty good job on laying out the Precept and explaining it, a refreshing change from the way the last bunch conducted themselves.

I should give Cllr Neale another name check for his contribution within the Precept item where he seemed to be pointing out that something should have been done about the changing rooms on the sports field. He explained that £150k had been put aside for the provision of changing rooms but it had all been absorbed by, in his words, "this building". Clearly he has forgotten that, of the current council, only two members voted for the expenditure on the Tin Dunny and that was Cllr Harrison and, of course, Cllr Neale. So the point of his interjection was rather lost on me.

The Chair then wound up the meeting with thanks to Somerton's 'Light Brigade' who installed the Christmas lights and also thanks to Cllr Shane for his work on the LSMI alterations.