Congratulations upon being elected to serve Swanley as a Town Councillor. As a resident of Swanley for some 46 years I have always noted with interest what goes on at the Council. I would like to take this opportunity to share my personal views with you from a resident’s perspective and offer an insight into some things which have caused concern and some ‘suggestions’ for the future.
Over the past 8 years there have been occasions when STC has shown signs of dying from terminal ineptitude, lacking transparency, poor judgement and have behaved with reckless financial irresponsibility on a grand scale, resulting in huge financial losses. In fact, most of the past problems have involved finance but fortunately the present CEO, (just under 3 years in post) Steve Nash, has made a huge effort in getting everything back on track… it will be up to you and colleagues to make sure the same mistakes never happen again.
Here are some personal observations and suggestions for your consideration.
In general, the residents within your Ward most likely did not vote for you as a person but as someone who represents their chosen (national) political party, so to this end please forget national politics and concentrate your efforts towards everything that puts Swanley People First. Also be aware that if you wish to change political camps on the council at any time this will incur a local by election in your Ward (cost circa £10k) – Wasting money. You may not be aware that the Olympic venue has, since FNY 2013/14 to just recent months, never made a profit – in fact it incurred losses year on year totalling £489,441 (I kid you not) quite unacceptable when you consider the number of meetings held over those years. It begs the question, ‘what were Cllrs doing to remedy the situation?’ Clearly nothing of any consequence. This situation should never occur again and probably won’t due to new measures introduced, but never the less you as a Cllr (whether or not you are on a financial committee) should take an active interest to ensure it doesn’t happen on your watch. Beware of the ‘wannabee entrepreneur’ and treat any council financial transactions as if it were your own money!
More Financial Waste. At the end of each FNY a Section 2 Accounting Statement has to be produced, for the public domain, showing the cash balance brought forward (B/F) and the balance carried forward (C/F) from one year to the next.
At the 31st March 2015 the B/F amount was £1,030,495, the C/F figure for year ending March 2016 was £485,428. This B/F amount went down each year until 31st March 2019 to a new low of £7,128! Pleased to note that the C/F is now at £72,573 so there has been some sign of improvement but has a long way to go to reach 7 figures again.
Why did this happen? The then CEO, who was also the RFO, got into a ‘bit of a financial crisis’ and was moving large amounts (around £800,000) of reserve monies from the Banks & Building Society investments to pay for non-budgeted items – probably due to some misinformation between the CEO and the Councillor. Fortunately, the present CEO got this under control and produced invoices to put against this amount, however Councillors have a collective responsibility to ensure everything is on the right track and never to be afraid of challenging, on the printed monthly finance sheets, anything that you feel does not look right.
Event costs for 2018. Here is another area of finance that causes concern with many people and may need some discussion. The P&F minutes for the 23rd January ‘19 showed that, other than the Armed Forces Day (which made a £1,000 profit) all the other events incurred a loss totalling £36,410. A councillor suggested that all the events represented good value for money [really?] and that residents benefitted from this alongside visitors to the Town. Those of us that have worked in the real world of business will know that you have to earn money before you can spend it. However, this series of PR events, whilst not huge amounts, must put some strain on the STC finances which are at quite a low ebb. The Councillor did go on to say that “additional sources of income should be sought to help these events”. Quite so. Although I have not seen anything since January to suggest that some support has been arranged- maybe this is the time for it to become an agenda item once more?
success teaches us little – whereas failure shows us everything “
The Woodlands venue sale first time round 2015/16. This has been a most complicated (and constipated) sale I have ever known and which highlights total lack of transparency, inefficiencies, secrecy and mismanagement on a grand scale, resulting with the sale at £2.2 million (which was said to be a good price) eventually being withdrawn and then put up for resale in a proper manner by the present CEO. I believe it has now been sold at Circa £4.2 million. Perhaps you can understand why it is still being investigated by an outside agency? It is hoped to have a result by March 2020. Just to say that if any further STC real estate, land or buildings are put up for sale please give the details your utmost scrutiny and make sure there is plenty of transparency.
Items that will also require utmost scrutiny in the near future by Cllrs and may well involve members of the public.
The rebuilding of the Working Men’s Club site by Sevenoaks District Council (SDC), the rebuilding of the Leisure Centre by SDC, the possible development involving the Sevenoaks Suns Basketball Club, Pedham Place project for 2,500 homes (3 years’ time?) and any proposed building on Green Belt land in or around Swanley.
Committees. Do not confuse a committee with being a clique (it can happen). Whether you are a member of a committee or not, you should as a Cllr, be up to speed with what is going on. Particularly if one of your Ward members should start asking questions of you regarding ‘what’s going on at the Council?’
Communication with the public. Both the Town Crier and the STC website are valuable sources of information however, they only communicate one way. Sometimes we need to have verbal communication like at a council meeting or at the Annual Town Meeting.
Has anyone thought of having, say, a bi-monthly ‘Surgery’ at the Link to get some current views as to what concerns members of their Ward. After all you did knock on lots of doors during the election campaign seeking their vote? It would be good to keep in touch. Food for thought? Why not write on your agenda paper before the start of a meeting ‘what have I (or we) done in this meeting for the benefit of those who elected me/us?
Town Mayor. This may be a touchy point but does Swanley really need a Mayor? The Mayor is just the same as any other Cllr and has no additional powers and no terms of reference except for having a budget for expenses of £2,500 pa. Taking random attendances by the Mayor one wonders what benefit there is to Swanley residents by the Mayor attending the KCC Chairman’s Dinner in Tenterden in aid of the Samaritans or attending The Mayor of Dartford Greek Night in aid of various charities or attending the Medway Civic Day Out at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham? Also should not the Mayors ‘Chosen Charities’ be confined to Swanley and local good causes? Charity starts at home. Just saying.
District Councillors. There are 54 Sevenoaks District Councillors of which STC has 8. As the SDC is overwhelmed by one political party (Tory), there is, unsurprisingly, a tendency for that party to rule the roost and probably put some District Councillors off challenging their committees. Challenges have been done in the past couple of years by our DC Cllrs with some success, in spite of feeling somewhat intimidated by the rather ‘imperious’ attitude of the others. For information the total cost to the ratepayers of expenses for FNY 17/18, in respect of the 54 District Cllrs, was £405,017 not a bad investment to help ‘tow’ the party line. The 8 Swanley DCs will cost at least £42,000 in the coming year.
That’s it. Swanley Town Council has been through some troubled times and hopefully we are now on the straight and narrow. Remember putting the needs of people in Swanley should be first and foremost, please do not let them down and also remember you are unique – just like everybody else. I trust your time spent on the Council will an interesting, worthwhile and rewarding time. I hope you may gain something from reading this email. Good Luck!
when we get it right nobody remembers – when we get it wrong nobody ever forgets”