30 June 2010
In the 18 months that I've spent requesting access to, and looking at, the 'records' of Somerton Town Council (principally the records of the Keenan/Canvin administration) one feature has slowly emerged and that is the almost complete absence of anything (other than cheques!) signed by ex-Cllr Canvin.
Considering that ex-Cllr Canvin was seen by many people (including Teflon Tony himself) as the dynamo that drove the Council, the fact there there is little record of decisions made, action taken or instructions issued by Teflon would seem to be curious to say the least.
Take for instance, the manner in which bids were invited for the land at Etsome Terrace. As Far as I know, there was no specific proposal put before the Council to sell the land into residential development, neither was there any authority given by the Council to any individual to act as agent in the matter, yet the Council received three bids for the land (albeit only two being addressed to the Council). So how did Edgar Builders, Brookvale Homes and West of England (the three bidders) know that the land was for sale, especially as the sale was never advertised? The answer is simple - Teflon invited his chosen list of developers to put in bids but, being allergic to putting anything in writing, Teflon used his telepathic powers to communicate with his chums. The result? No record of Teflon's involvement, other than by inference and third party reporting.
Then there is the equally curious matter of the meeting that Teflon and the clerk held with Penn Hill surgery on 19th August of 2008. The clerk failed to enter any details of this meeting into the Town Council's business diary (because he didn't keep one) and it would have gone unrecorded had it not turned up in one of those pesky Freedom of Information enquiries.
Quoting from emails between Penn Hill and Somerset NHS, Teflon and the Clerk met with them to present a proposal (click or double/click on the images and they will open in a larger version):
In a follow-up email, Penn Hill refer to the proposal in the following terms:
More curious, however, is the disparity between the meeting described in these emails and the convenient Clerk's recent memory of the same meeting. The Clerk's statement is in bold and italics:
NOTES RE: ‘MEETING’ 19 AUGUST 2008:
The following is a statement as to the basis for and content of the ‘meeting’ referred to by Mr Connolly in his latest FoI Request.
The meeting such as it was, was held in my old office, in the Parish Rooms, on the 19th August 2008.
Present were Neil Dyer (Practice Manager of Penn Hill Surgery), Cllr Canvin and myself.
This meeting was some 8 days after the Planning meeting held in St Michael’s Church, Somerton where the application on behalf of the PCT for a Medical Centre on land at The Millands had been overwhelmingly rejected by the townsfolk of Somerton and the Town Council. The ‘meeting’ was completely informal, with no specific agenda and no notes were taken or actions required of the Council in any way as a result of the discussions.
The meeting focussed on just 2 items:
1. Comments to the effect that, if anyone involved with the preparation of the then current planning application had spoken to anybody connected with either the town or indeed the Town Council, the likely outcome of such an application on land at The Millands would have been predicted, such that potentially time and money could have been saved. Obviously the decision to apply is for the applicant to make, but there had appeared to be a simplistic view towards the likelihood of local objections.
2. While the outcome the previous week might have appeared to be entirely negative, the intention at the ‘meeting’ was to re-assure the Surgery that there was general agreement that a new Medical Centre was needed, and that if this could be achieved by re-developing the existing surgery site then the Council, as landlord, would be ready to at least listen to any proposals so that such an option should not be dismissed out of hand.
(Nothing ever materialised as a result of this conversation).
Which version of events should we set greater store by? Well, the Penn Hill emails are pretty much contemporaneous having been written about a week and a month after the event whereas the Clerk's version is written, seemingly from memory, 18 months later. I guess that I'd go for the Penn Hill version, but that's me. I'll leave you to make up your own mind.
From my reading of the emails from Penn Hill to Somerset NHS, it is quite clear that a proposal was put to them by Teflon and the Clerk and, equally clear, is the view that there would be no selection process (ie competitive tendering) if Somerton Town Council ran the project. Furthermore, it is clear that Penn Hill understood that the 'contractor' would be a "local individual/councillor" and I think a safe assumption is that they were referring to our very own Teflon.
However, the Clerk's recollection of the same meeting is almost diametrically opposed to Penn Hill's version in that, rather than making a proposal to Penn Hill, Somerton Town Council were open to any proposals made to them. Both versions cannot be 'true' and it may be that the Clerk's recollection of this meeting is possibly hazy. What is clear, however, is that Penn Hill clearly thought that a proposal was being put to them, not the other way around.
Was Teflon's presence at this meeting an abuse of his position as a local Councillor given his business interests and the clear implication that he would be a benficiary of the project should it have come to fruition? Should the Clerk have advised him that he should rule himself out of any business involvement in the project, to protect the reputation of the Town Council? If the Clerk's version of events was accurate then the Clerk probably had no need to protect the Council's reputation. But if the Penn Hill version is correct then there was, yet again, clear conflict of interest and abuse.
As I've already said, the meeting between Penn Hill and Somerton Town Council would have gone un-noticed had I not made a Freedom of Information enquiry on another matter. But I am moved to ask how many other meetings were held like this and involving Teflon Tony? How many meetings like this one were held and, as a result, something did materialise? Because of the Town Clerk's abject failure to keep appropriate records, we will never know. And that is convenient.
Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 08:01
26 June 2010
Its odd how enquiries into the shenanigans of the old Somerton Town Council, and now into the self-styled 'Somerton Community Association' lead you into very, very murky waters.
As readers of this blog already know, I have been making enquiries about the Somerton Community Association and they, in common with the Keenan/Canvin administration of Somerton Town Council, don't seem to want to answer letters of enquiry - even when enquiries come from a member of the community which the 'SCA' purports to represent.
So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, I've widened the scope of my enquiries to include ENTRUST itself and the Environmental Tax section of Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue, the body who, I understand, regulates ENTRUST.
My initial enquiries of ENTRUST gleaned little information because ENTRUST threw up a wall of obstruction (where have we seen that before?) but I did learn that the Chairperson of the 'SCA' was in breach of ENTRUST's regulations and had been so since May of 2005. ENTRUST later confirmed to me that they had 'investigated' the 'SCA' and that 'action had been taken' but, so far, they refuse to provide any details.
As a result of this attitude I took the matter back to the Environmental Taxes section of HMRC and the responses that I have now received seemed rather defensive. Quite surprisingly, HMRC now inform me that ENTRUST is a 'private body' and therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Not only that but HMRC suggest that ENTRUST's funds are 'private funds'.
To say that I'm confused by this disclosure is something of an understatement because, as I understand it, ENTRUST have no funds of their own. All that ENTRUST do is 'regulate' so called 'environmental bodies' (EBs) who register with ENTRUST in order that those EBs may receive LandFill Tax which would otherwise go to the Exchequer. ENTRUST only regulates the manner in which funds from LandFill Tax is redirected to EB's, supposedly to be spent on 'environmental projects'.
As a result of HMRC's attitude, I've decided to take the matter further up the chain of command at HMRC, hopefully to the individual with direct responsibility for the regulation of ENTRUST. I've asked HMRC to disclose the identity of that individual and it will be interesting to see what they have to say.
However, as part of my wider enquiries, I stumbled upon a document which is the Minutes of the 86th Board Meeting of ENTRUST held in 2009. Whilst not part of the Board of ENTRUST, HMRC attended the meeting as the regulator of ENTRUST and the Minutes of the meeting make interesting reading. A large chunk of those Minutes was taken up with noting concerns about: the regulation of EBs registering with ENTRUST; the fining of EBs which breach ENTRUST regulations and the action to be taken against regsistered EBs which do not provide appropriate documentation. This would seem to suggest that the activities of our very own delinquent 'Somerton Community Association' are just a small part of a much bigger picture where ENTRUST are having a hard time making sure that EBs behave properly.
And maybe this is why HMRC have become defensive. In the difficult financial situation that the Government and the country finds itself, it is possibly an embarrassment to find that people are signing up with ENTRUST then running off with the dosh. So, if you want to get your hands on some public money, invent a bogus organisation (with a name like, for example, the Somerton Community Group), register with ENTRUST, tick the boxes, contact a few Landfill operators and then wait for the cheques to fall through the letterbox. Easy-peasy.
Till next time, I'm the 'Mount Hey Environmental Improvement Group'.
Posted by niall connolly at 15:13
19 June 2010
Recently I was informed that the 'Somerton Community Association' had published financial information under the headline, "Somerton Community Association under attack".
Its very interesting to note that with the old Somerton Town Council, ie the Keenan/Canvin administration, all you had to do was to ask questions and show reasonable interest in order to be described as a troublemaker. The 'Somerton Community Association', having direct links with the old Somerton Town Council, follow exactly the same route and it suggests that the 'SCA' shares its culture with that of the old Somerton Town Council. It embraces secrecy and exclusivity and is happy to trade on the identity of Somerton in order to generate donations and attract public funds then it spends those donations and funds with no reference to the community upon whose identity it trades.
I have tried to obtain information from the Chairperson of the 'SCA' and, as with the old Somerton Town Council, the Chairperson of the 'SCA' chooses not to reply. I am therefore left to speculate on the answers to the questions I have asked. Obviously, whilst this isn't an ideal situation, the 'SCA' cannot therefore object if my speculations turn out to be wide of the mark. To mis-quote the ex-ViceChair of Somerton Town Council, Tony Canvin, I'm sure that they could clear it all up in 10 minutes if they could be bothered. The fact that the 'SCA' chooses not to reply leaves me wondering what, exactly, have they got to hide.
For example, I do wonder if the 'SCA' has been used, by the old Somerton Town Council, as an alternative source of funds to undertake work for which the old Somerton Town Council did not have the funds. The relationship between the Chairperson of the 'SCA' and the 'assistant to the Town Clerk' would then take on a rather darker hue. Was this the 'quid pro quo' for giving the Chairperson of the 'SCA' a publicly funded post with Somerton Town Council?
I am also struck by the documentation, dated Feb 2005, where the 'SCA' explains that it has collected £175,000 and then, in 2010, the 'SCA' stated, on the Somerton Town Council website, that it has collected £185,000. From this are we to assume that the 'SCA' only collected £10,000 in the last 5 years where it collected £175,000 before that?
There are many questions to be answered by the 'SCA' and the longer they seek to keep their activities secret and without accountability, the stronger will be the perception that they have something to hide. Personally, I would like to see accounts and bank statements in order to be certain that funds received by the 'SCA' have been used appropriately. I would like to see the consultations that they have undertaken with the community prior to the expenditure of donations and Land-Fill Tax receipts. Only in this way can anyone believe that the 'Somerton Community Association' is what it claims to be and that it has not been obtaining money by deception.
Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 11:59
11 June 2010
Its always been something of a mystery to me as to the identity, membership and purpose of the 'Somerton Community Association'. In order to inform myself I have written (twice) to the Chairperson of the Association, Mrs Sherry Briggs, but, in the tradition of the old Somerton Town Council, thus far there has been no reply. So I have to go with the information that I have to hand.
As I understand it, this organisation was established in the late 1990s and as a response to the loss of the function rooms to the rear of the old Red Lion Hotel. Around that time, the 'Community Association' registered with ENTRUST in order that it could receive Land-Fill Tax Receipts. In 2002, the SCA was recognised by Somerton Town Council as the body which would focus on generating funds to enable the building of the new Community Hall. More recently, the 'Community Association' published figures in the Viaduct showing that it has handled and distributed something over £185,000 of which around a third has been Land-Fill Tax receipts.
Beyond this, I know very little about the self-styled 'Somerton Community Association' and the question occurs to me as to what sanction this organisation enjoys from the actual community.
As a result of a Freedom of Information enquiry made of Somerton Town Council, I stumbled upon documentation supplied to Somerton Town Council, I assume, by the 'SCA' in or around 2005. This documentation states that, at the time, the 'SCA' enjoyed a membership of 37, including the 'executive' which is about 0.7% of Somerton's community. (Did Cllr Ian Neale suggest that, for credibility, the Somerton Historic Building Preservation Trust needed the support of 66% of the community to have any legitimacy?)
What makes more interesting reading is the Membership restrictions applied by the 'SCA'. Membership is not automatically open to residents of Somerton but is by invitation only and any applicant must be proposed by two existing members of the 'SCA'. So why does this organisation propose that it is the 'Somerton Community Association' when membership is exclusive and self-selecting - not what I would describe as a 'community association'.
Then there is the matter of the 'SCA's' registration with ENTRUST. ENTRUST is the body which regulates organisations seeking to receive Land-Fill Tax receipts for use on community projects. The 'SCA' registered in the late 1990s and, I understand from ENTRUST, has not updated its details since that time. So whilst the 'SCA' may have enjoyed widespread support at its inception, its current status is unknown.
But the basis of the registration with ENTRUST imposes certain restrictions, one of which is that no executive member of a registering body will occupy a paid position with a Local Authority. Since a 'confidential meeting' of Somerton Town Council in 2005, Mrs Sherry Briggs, Chairperson of the 'SCA', has been a paid employee of Somerton Town Council (in breach of ENTRUST regulations), raising the spectre, once again, of 'conflicts of interest'.
As an example of this possible 'conflict of interest' I am reminded of the hilarious events at the Somerton Town Council meeting on 13th January 2009 (in the time of darkness). High on the agenda was the great 'crockery saga' and Chair Keenan announced that the problem had been resolved by a secret benefactor who had donated £1,000 to the 'crockery fund'. The records of Somerton Town Council provide a letter, dated 25th January 2009, from Mrs Briggs to Rodger Calderwood and containing a cheque for the sum of £1,000 towards crockery. (Oddly, this letter seems to have been received on 27th of March but that must have been a filing error.) So, was the 'SCA' the secret benefactor referred to by Chair Keenan?
So why should any of this bother anyone? Well, the self-styled 'Somerton Community Association' trades on the being Somerton's Community Association but exactly how representative is it? To whom does it answer? Who decides where the money goes and on what basis? Is there any public consultation? Using the 'Cllr Neale test', did the 'SCA' seek that authority of 66% of the community before it handed £40,000 to Somerton Town Council to be spent on the Tin Dunny? The 'Somerton Community Association' has traded on Somerton's identity in order to obtain funds, both public funds and public donations, but has it disposed of those funds with the sanction of the community whose identity it uses?
£185,000 would have been a good leg-up to building a community hall at Etsome and this was, after-all, one of the core objectives of the 'SCA'. But, since 2002, none of the funds handled by the 'SCA' were focussed on that objective. Would the community on whose identity the 'SCA' trades, would that community have approved of the manner in which the 'SCA' distributes Public Donations and Public Funds? Does the 'SCA' reflect the ambitions and views of the wider community or the views and ambitions of the the Chairperson of the 'SCA', who just happens to be the 'assistant to the Town Clerk'?
Oh, and one final question. Who, exactly, is the 'SCA' answerable to? Although its literature suggests that it is some form of Trust and that it has 'trustees', it is not fomally recognised as such. Neither is it a registered charity so what exactly is the 'SCA' and who regulates its activities?
Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 10:18
7 June 2010
M&B receives emails from near and far and a common theme is concern about the relationship between Councils and some aspect of the property industry.
In response to criticism of the activities of Councils, specifically local town and parish councils, the regular defence of councillors is that they are volunteers and therefore somehow beyond criticism. But the fact is that volunteers or not, there are rules, regulations and guidelines which are meant to regulate the activities of councillors and councils. If a volunteer ignores a regulation, is that any different to anyone else ignoring a regulation? I'd say not, especially where public funds are concerned. I'd say that volunteer councillors, whilst I applaud their selfless action, are accountable to law and legislation in the same way that any other individual is accountable. Yet they don't seem to be accountable.
The regular theme of emails is that many councillors and councils: act in secret; don't consult; exclude the community; don't disclose interests and, generally, use their positions of influence to promote self-interest. Councils acting like this seem, commonly, to include in their membership councillors with direct or indirect links to the property industry be it as contractors, developers or agents.
What makes the situation more difficult is that the checks and balances that, one assumes, are meant to regulate councillors seemingly don't work. 'Declarations of Interest' which councillors make within Council Meetings are seen as a 'get out of jail free' card. A councillor can have been involved directly or indirectly with a project for months or years and, as long as they declare an interest at the meeting where the project or proposal is discussed, then they are seen to have done no wrong. In the background, if they have failed to 'register an interest' in the Register of Member's Interests (another way that the public might be able to find out what councillors are up to) there is no significant penalty.
So why does government allow this situation to continue, especially when, at present, there is such an interest in 'cleaning up politics'? The answer is that, most probably, the situation within Parish and Town Councils mirrors the situation in Westminster and Parliament. Its all about vested interest and any effort to change that perspective will be met with resistance.
So I guess that the emails will continue.
Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly
Posted by niall connolly at 12:50
3 June 2010
A hater is someone who is jealous and envious and spends all
their time trying to make you look small so they can look tall.
They are very negative people to say the least. Nothing is ever
good enough! When you make your mark, you will always attract some
haters…That’s why you have to be careful with whom you share your
blessings and your dreams, because some folk can’t handle seeing you
It’s dangerous to be like somebody else…
If God wanted you to be like somebody else, He would have given
you what He gave them! Right? You never know what people have gone
through to get what they have.
The problem I have with haters is that they see my glory, but
they don’t know my story… If the grass looks greener on the other side
of the fence, you can rest assured that the water bill is higher there
We’ve all got some haters among us! People envy you because you can:
Have a relationship with God
Light up a room when you walk in
Start your own business
Tell a man / woman to hit the curb (if he / she isn’t about the right thing)
Raise your children without both parents being in the home
Haters can’t stand to see you happy, Haters will never want to
see you succeed, Haters never want you to get the victory, most of our
haters are people who are supposed to be on our side. How do you handle
your undercover haters?
You can handle these haters by:
1. Knowing who you are & who your true friends are *(VERY IMPORTANT!!)
2. Having a purpose to your life? Purpose does not mean having a job.
You can have a job and still be unfulfilled. A purpose is having
a clear sense of what God has called you to be. Your purpose is not
defined by what others think about you.
3. By remembering what you have is by divine prerogative and not
human manipulation. Fulfill your dreams!
You only have one life to live…when it’s your time to leave this earth,
you ‘want’ to be able to say, ‘I’ve lived my life and fulfilled
‘my’ dreams,… Now I’m ready to go HOME! When God gives you favor, you can
tell your haters, Don’t look at me…Look at Who is in charge of me…’
Posted by niall connolly at 04:03