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Gone missing from Spelthorne – can you help?

August 28, 2019 1:25 PM

Scrutiny in Spelthorne

Following the election of a new Council in May this year it has become apparent that there are things missing at Spelthorne Borough Council (SBC) that you would have expected to find in a well-run Council. The missing items are real consultations, transparency and genuine scrutiny of decisions. Your local Liberal Democrat councillors are trying their best to find out where they have gone.

Spelthorne has run a number of consultations recently, but they have almost all been less than satisfactory. In many cases it looks more like going through the motions rather than a genuine attempt to engage residents and get their opinions. Examples of unsatisfactory consultation are:

Transparency is something that residents have a right to expect from their local Council, but with Spelthorne this is rarely the case. Over the last three years SBC has borrowed and spent £1 BILLION on a number of commercial investment properties, including the BP Sunbury campus. All the documentation about these are confidential, as are those that relate to recent purchases of land intended for residential development. The Tory Cabinet that runs SBC makes all the big decisions behind closed doors. Some of these major decisions have been criticised by external auditors and there has been a quantity of negative press coverage expressing concerns over the scale of the financial obligations the Council has taken on. It is possible that the investments may be brilliant and safeguard the finances of the borough for years to come but nobody can tell if this is the case, because it is all secret.

There are also other failures of transparency at a less material level where the Council's website has not been updated regularly with information such as recordings of meetings and the record of Freedom of Information requests is now no longer available online.

Against this backdrop it should be expected that the Council was subject to a high level of scrutiny - after all there is an Overview and Scrutiny committee expressly for the purpose. In practice this committee has never looked closely at any of the £1 BILLION of commercial investments.

In 2016 SBC established a company, Knowle Green Estates Ltd, to develop and operate rental property in Spelthorne. The activities of KGE have never subject to any oversight or scrutiny, despite the external auditors criticising the lack of properly audited accounts. In response to a question from a Lib Dem councillor the Audit committee were told that "KGE does not fall within the remit of the Audit Committee and Internal Audit". So the Council is borrowing millions of pounds and transferring assets to a company where there is no internal audit or routine member scrutiny.

It is not possible or desirable to try to unpick what has been done, but Liberal Democrat councillors are committed to making sure that things change and that genuine scrutiny of decisions becomes a regular and expected feature of Council activity and the rubber-stamp attitude of Tory councillors is not allowed to continue.

If you think there is something that needs to be looked into further please email us at RealScrutiny@SpelthorneLibDems.org.uk