Saturday, 19 March 2011

CWaC Council dodgy dealings over the sale of Chester County Hall?



Handbridge community champion Reg Barritt has slammed Cheshire West and Chester Council for refusing to acknowledge his request to their Full Council meeting of 17th March for an apology to be issued at that meeting to both himself and to his community for its failure to consult the public over the sale of Chester County Hall to the University of Chester.

A recently issued Audit Commission report has heavily criticised CWAC Council for variously failing to consult the public over this major asset disposal, for failing to brief members fully of what was going on over the sale, and for failing to apply best practice in delivering it.

After considering this report Reg Barritt recently wrote to CWAC Full Council via the Legal Officer criticising what had gone on and demanding a public apology be issued to himself and members of the community for these failing; which he says are a clear betrayal of Councils' Duty to Involve and its own Statement of Community Involvement. A claim he says is now backed up by the findings of the Audit Report.

He offered to attend CWAC's Full Council meeting and to read out his letter given an assurance that after doing so the obviously required apology would then be delivered. In response CWAC refused to confirm any apology would be forthcoming. Mr Barritt responded by insisted his letter be read by the Chairman to the meeting in his absence with a view to the meeting agreeing to provide an apology at the next Full Council meeting, which he promised to then attend with other community representatives to receive that apology.

The Chairman and Legal Officer refused that demand and his representationwas not even acknowledged in the meeting, with councillors left ignorant of it. Mr Barritt told us: "Clearly this is not democracy at work. What it is is repressive dictatorship, and that sort of leadership is not the sort I will be voting for at the coming local elections. I am appalled at the way my representation has been treated. It seems to me CWAC has paid lip service to the Auditor's criticisms in saying it will make changes to its procedures in matters like this in future, but in practice it shows it is utterly unrepentant over the undemocratic way it has behaved in this very questionable affair".

At the meeting CWAC's Labour group agenda listed an item asking for the Audit Report of this disposal to be debated but the Tory controlled council first voted to refuse the debate and then went even further in denying the right to much needed consideration of this matter by also refusing to refer the matter to its Executive or any other committee. Appalled at the lack of a response to the request for any open debate in the interest of accountable and transparent local government CWAC's Labour group then took the extraordinary step of standing up and walking out of the meeting in protest.

Reg Barritt says: "On behalf of the community that was so shabbily treated  at the time and that continues to be so treated I applaud the actions of the Labour group in taking this necessary action. He added: "We need more local councillors like them and less like the group that stayed in the meeting and that endorsed this gagging action on freedom of speech and a much needed debate of this matter in the public interest".

The streaming video of the meeting including the Labour Group walkout can be seen via the CWAC website.

Read Reg Barritt's submitted letter. The best response CWAC's Legal Officer has offered is a private written response; the nature of which, given the letter has so far not been forthcoming, remains unknown.

My comment: An earlier post of mine on the subject

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