The Rye Partnership, a joint venture between local authorities and various community representatives, will mark its 25th anniversary in 2021. In March 2020, the Rye Partnership was meant to be presenting a four-year business plan covering the ‘key aims and objectives and strategic projects that the Rye Partnership will be focussing on over the next four years.’
Rye News has contacted Councillor Keith Glazier, who took over as chair in 2005, from former leader of East Sussex County Council Peter Jones, to get an update on their delayed business plan. At the time of writing, we have yet to receive a response but will publish it once it arrives.
In advance of the publication of the delayed business plan, Rye News has taken the opportunity to look back at the organisation’s often troubled history.
The Rye Partnership was established in 1996 to ‘bring together key stakeholders to develop a local community response to the socio-economic problems prevalent in the area.’ In its early days the Rye Partnership was successful in obtaining external funding from SEEDA (the South East Economic Development Agency, one of nine development agencies that covered the UK at the time) and EU funding to help with regeneration efforts and to boost local skills and the tourist economy. In addition, the Partnership received annual financial support from Rother District Council.
Up to 2008 the Rye Partnership received just under £2million from SEEDA and a further £289,000 from EU funding streams. After a number of years, local residents started to raise concerns regarding the performance and management of the Partnership. A subsequent investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) in 2009 resulted in the publication of their damning report.
The report highlighted the Partnership’s high staff turnover and dependence on expensive external consultants, with the NAO estimating £145,000 was spent on external consultants over the five-year period to 2008.
Further concerns were raised by the NAO around the issue of conflict of interest, saying, ‘In a town with a small population, such as Rye, it is inevitable that some of these people will have other personal, commercial or political interests in the town’ but went onto expand, ‘our review of the activities of the Partnership has noted a number of potential or perceived conflicts of interest. These have not always been dealt with in a transparent manner.’
Partnership criticised over communication failures
Where the NAO criticised the Rye Partnership most was in its failure to communicate to the local community. A key recommendation was that, ‘the Partnership develop a communications strategy for informing the community of its progress.’ It also noted that when the Partnership did communicate, some of the financial information they distributed was incorrect.
The NAO commented ‘More recently the Partnership produced a guide, The Rye Partnership – Past, Present and Future, summarising the work of the Partnership since it was first set up and setting out the strategic priorities of the Partnership going forward…Our analysis of the single regeneration budget (SRB) expenditure has revealed that the Partnership has underreported the amounts actually spent on SRB projects in the guide.
“For example, it quotes only one year’s expenditure (£10,000) for the Animate Youth Centre project which actually spent £60,000, and the Computers for Schools project spent £125,000, not £25,000.’
The NAO report went on to say, ‘The Partnership acknowledges that its communication with local residents could, at times have been improved, particularly through the use of a website.’
What is Tilling Green’s future ?
Despite these recommendations, it would seem that the Rye Partnership hasn’t heeded the NAO’s advice. Its current website contains very little information and hasn’t been updated since 2019 and, to date, there has been little in the way of communication with their main stakeholders, such as the Tilling Green Community Centre CIC, or the wider community, on their future strategy.
Meantime, the Rye Partnership continues to control a number of assets in and around Rye including Tilling Green Community Centre, Rye Fisheries and Rye Harbour stores but, with SEEDA and EU funding streams long ceased, it is unclear what their future strategy is, or if there any further plans to help regenerate Rye.
Image Credits: Kevin McCarthy , National Audit Office , ESCC .