I have been approached by a Barlborough resident who was puzzled by the friction between the Parish Council (PC) and the Civic Trust. One question I was asked was ‘What is the Civic Trust?’ As there are rumours and half truths circulating the village I will give you the facts.
The village hall was ‘planning gain’ for the residents of Barlborough for the development on the Slayley site. It was opened in 1993. The PC leased it for 99 years to the newly formed politically appointed Village Hall Committee. Every year, until this year, the PC precepted (set aside money) for the Village Hall. In 2000 they received 27% of the village precept with £19,687 in the bank and in 2001 7% of the village precept with £9,687 in the bank.
As the Village Hall Committee and the PC were in agreement they worked well together. Then, in 2003 the hall was in financial difficulties and at the Annual General Meeting, several committee members walked out or resigned shortly afterwards. A new committee was formed consisting of six parish councillors and six members of the wide public who were involved in village activities.
The new PC and the Village Hall Committee were in agreement and also worked well together.
When the ‘Little’ School was renovated to a very high standard it was decided that, as they are charities, The ‘Little’ School and the Village Hall should be put together and known as the Civic Trust. Those on the Civic Trust are trustees and responsible to the Charity Commission. So the Civic Trust is just a new name for the ‘Little’ School and Village Hall Committees.
Then the elections in May last year returned a Labour majority of 5-3. At the bye-election in November, the Barlborough First candidate was successful so it is 4-4 with the then Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts having the casting vote.
At an Extraordinary Meeting of the PC on the 30th July 2007 the Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts with his Labour majority expressed his determination to break the 99 year lease and take control of the village amenities from the Civic Trust. The Civic Trust (I am not a member) examined the lease document, which is legally binding and sought advice from the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils (DALC) who are qualified to give legal advice to PCs, the Charity Commission and pro bono solicitors (they give advice for free). The all assured the Civic Trust that it is the rightful administrator of the ‘Little’ School and Village Hall.
Every councillor received a copy of the DALC letter. It was not read at any PC meeting. It states:
‘I note that the Village Hall Management Committee appears to be a charity and holds a 99 year lease of the premises. The council is according to the background documentation the custodian trustee of the charity. A custodian trustee:
1. can not manage a charity – that is a matter for the managing trustees; and
2. can not act for the managing trustees even if there are none; and
3. must carry out the managing trustees’ instructions unless that would involve the custodian trustee in a breach of trust or some personal liability..
As you will therefore realise the role of the custodian trustee is very limited and they have no day to day involvement in the running of the charity.’
I read this at the PC meeting on April 14th, but it was ignored.
Jackie Parkinson of the Charity Commission wrote:
‘It is important to note that the [Labour controlled] Parish Council does not control the charities. A meeting of the Parish Council can not determine the business of the charities. Nor can a meeting of the Parish Council dissolve the charities or determine that they (the Parish Council) will take over responsibility for the management and administration of the charities.’
The Civic Trust’s solicitor Bates, Wells and Braithwaite advised that everything is in order according to the law. If the Civic Trust wishes to change their constitution, they can do so. They can also ask anyone that works against the Civic Trust while a member of it (as some Labour PCs did) to stand down.
There were ugly scenes at Civic Trust meetings when uninvited Labour members of the public disrupted them. After one meeting, a member of the Labour party had to be forcibly restrained from attacking the Chairman of the Civic Trust.
At the April PC meeting, the Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts, said that he had contacted our MP Dennis Skinner. He had also written to the Charity Commission and had received a reply which, he said, supported him. He read out selected items from the letters and informed the PC of his six members of the public to be on the Civic Trust. Neither the Clerk to the Council nor the Barlborough First members of the PC have seen these letters.
The Civic Trust had not received any information about this from the Charity Commission.
The previous PC followed the fourteen year procedure and in 2007 precepted 20% of the village precept for the two buildings run by the Civic Trust: one, new and recently opened needing to be equipped. This is reasonable when you consider that in 2000 it was allocated 27% of the village precept with £19,687 in the bank for just the Village Hall alone. The PC paid the first quarter of the precept, £6,250, then demanded that it be returned. (It was not) and have refused to pay the balance. Part of the yearly precept to the village buildings paid for the Parish Office and the PC’s use of the buildings. When this was not paid the Civic Trust billed the PC at the same rate as any other user. The PC refused to pay their outstanding bill, and, purportedly, to save money, relocated the Parish Office to the Resource Centre ignoring the advice from the PC’s solicitor, Illet and Clarke.
The Resource Centre is a charity with its own trustess and has no connection with the PC. It will benefit by the money paid by the PC.
However, if the PC had paid their account the money would be used for the upkeep of the two village buildings. These buildings are for the use of Barlborough residents. I see no reason why the PC cannot subsidise them to keep the hire charges at a reasonable rate.
On March 10th, the Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts, in the absence of the Clerk through illness, called a meeting. The Clerk and Barlborough First councillors informed the Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts, that they would not attend the meeting as it had no proper agenda and, therefore, any decisions taken would be illegal. Every parish councillor knows that no decision can be made on anything that is not on the agenda. Standing Order 55 of Barlborough Parish Council Standing Orders states ‘The council cannot make a substantive decision or discuss motions which are not on the agenda.’ However, the meeting took place, decisions were made and minutes taken.
These minutes were put forward to be accepted at the meeting on April 14th. When I spoke to remind the Parish Council of the ruling, the Chairman, Cllr Eion Watts, shouted me down and began to take the vote. I raised my voice and he stopped but, as I continued, he took the vote while I was still speaking and the minutes were accepted. To prevent me from speaking was deplorable. To take the vote while I was still speaking was disgraceful. This altercation had gone on for almost a year. I hope it will soon be resolved. I am saddened and wearied by it.
My best wishes to you.