Clerk retires early as mysterious benefactor steps in to cover cost of private party for Colnbrook councillors
Colnbrook Parish Council has admitted shelling out nearly £2,700 for what was effectively a private party last month for parish councillors, their friends and families. But an anonymous donor has stepped in to refund the taxpayer.
Officially the lavish event at the Poyle Hilton on May 9 was the ‘Admission of Honorary Freemen ceremony’ for serving parish councillors Kishurbhai Laxman and Ray Angell.
But not only were residents excluded from attending, but the Parish has now confirmed that it erred in law and failed to confer the titles properly, voiding the process.
Colnbrook Views highlighted the problem nearly two months before the event but the Parish failed to act.
Councillors were asked to bestow the ‘Freedom of the Parish’, an ancient and hereditary right which it has no legal right to confer. Should Cllrs Laxman or Angell execute their new ‘right’ to drive their sheep through the village, they could be charged with obstruction.
The sham ceremony in the presence of Her Majesty’s representative in Berkshire the Lord Lieutenant Mary Bayliss brings further embarrassment on our Parish Council. But the extravagance will do nothing to defuse the growing antipathy and ambivalence toward the Parish since the mishandling of February’s flooding.
The Parish spent £2,000 to hire the Hilton, £100 to frame the scrolls, £250 to print invitation cards, £50 for photographs we may never see, £40 for name badges, and even £25 for a bouquet for the Lord Lieutenant. That was more than the grant made by parish Councillors toward youth initiatives for the whole year – and without the gruelling application process and requirement to account for funds spent.
Contrary to local media reports the invitation-only black tie event was attended by “around 50”, leaving the function room at the Hilton half empty with lots of vacant seats. Why the event could not have been held in the Village Hall has not been made clear.
There was an obscene amount of food wasted and provision [was] well over the top – doggy bags I suspect!
While one guest complained about the “obscene” amount of food wasted, the event itself did not get off to a smooth start.
Chair Cllr Hood managed to fumble the introduction of the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, reminiscent of the 2012 unveiling of the Jubilee Clock when the Duchess of Cornwall was left standing during an overly zealous rope trick.
Cllr “K” Laxman, gave a “very humble” acceptance speech by all accounts, while Cllr Ray Angell’s was said to have been “to the point”. Maybe he was privy to our reports.
On Monday Parish Clerk Roland Hewson confirmed the legal error and promised steps would be taken to rectify the problem.
The admission came following a Freedom of Information request from Colnbrook Views and has already been included in draft minutes published Wednesday on the parish website.
However, a new vote – rushed into Tuesday night’s full meeting of the Parish Council – has again fallen foul of the law given that neither councillors nor public were advised in advance that the matter would be added to the agenda.
The Parish fought hard last year to maintain the legal strictures and procedures of a formal parish council rather than any other form of “community governance”. But despite the £30,000 cost of maintaining this bureauocracy it struggles to keep abreast of the rules.
Clerk Roland Hewson has brought forward his retirement by ten months even though his successor has not been found. No suggestion has been made that his premature retirement is related to the development.
And there’re more intrigue.
Since the FOI request, the Parish has received a donation for a large chunk of the costs from a mysterious benefactor who has effectively part-refunded Colnbrook taxpayers. The £1,500 donation was received by the Parish on June 2, while the FOI request was made on May 30. Cllr Hood claims the timing the two are unrelated and the donation was already pledged before the event was held.
“I can confirm that the donation was promised in advance of the details of the ceremony and the reception that followed being arranged”.
Mr Hewson told Colnbrook Views via email:
“The donor requested anonymity so I cannot tell you – not even members of the Council know”.
He later added that the philanthropic individual is “legitimate”. While some may now have cause to doubt the parentage of our councillors, coincidentally, Cllr Hood drew his £1,500 ‘chairman’s allowance’ just two weeks ago.
Chair Peter Hood, defended the spend, saying:
“The event was budgeted to arrive at a nett cost within the sum allocated for Civic Hospitality”.
He is correct. With the donation received and deducting VAT reclaimable and apportioning the costs over two tax years and different internal budget allocations it has charged just £445 to the Council’s 2014/15 “Corporate Hospitality Budget”, leaving £5 unspent.
But the breakdown is at odds with a statement last night from Cllr Hood that claims the donation was for “refreshments” and not the ceremony itself:
“The donation was specifically promised and made toward the cost of refreshments after the ceremony and was received on 2nd June. The donation was therefore not in respect of the ceremony itself”.
That’s enough to cover 115 bottles of Aldi’s best champagne!
I do not care to make any public comment via your organ on any of these issues.
Double-counting is not unfamiliar territory for our Parish Chair, however, who drew stinging criticism from residents for taking credit for CCP, CRA and CCA achievements in last year’s review by Slough Borough Council. That left SBC to conclude that Colnbrook’s Parish Council was providing far better value for money to the taxpayer than its counterparts in Britwell and Wexham Court, both facing abolition.
He and deputy chair Cllr Angell – both recipients of the now void ‘freeman of the parish’ title – have so far refused to provide public comment to the spend, or the continued lapses in procedure. Neither have they provided any explanation for the exclusion of residents.
Will the mysterious benefactor please step forward and clear this up?