The annual general meeting of the Rye Partnership took place last month. This opportunity for the chairman Councillor Keith Glazier to give his report of the year and the treasurer to present the accounts left some members with unanswered questions. The accounts were so short of information that it was necessary for a more detailed account to be circulated after the meeting. Despite this many questions still remain unanswered.
Rye Partnership is a body that handles very large sums of public money on behalf of Rye. Whether this should continue to be the case is a question that should be asked by the Town Council when Keith Glazier will attend a meeting at the Town Hall on May 9.
The Partnership was originally launched in 1997 by our previous County Councillor Peter Jones with the help of a Rother District Council officer, Mark Evershed. Their first success was to obtain from the South East Development Agency (SEEDA) £1.6 million of European funds. They subsequently received more funds from SEEDA totalling about £2 million.
However the Rye Partnership has never been well managed and this has caused some residents to demand that the company be investigated. The concern was so great that a number of residents including the late Dr Keith Taylor (co-founder and former chairman, MLAG and Campaign for Democratic Rye) reported the company to the National Audit Office – a body that scrutinises public expenditure – and this resulted in a report by the NAO in March 2009.
Here are a few extracts from that report – seven years later, many of the failings identified have yet to be addressed:
“A GOSE (Government of the South East) inspection report identified that the management controls of the Interreg (EU funds) projects were very weak and, with the agreement of the Partnership, suspended funding for a time.”
“The Partnership has generally lacked the administrative and management capacity to effectively deliver its project activity”
“we have found incomplete documentation on some project files and inconsistent project monitoring”
“We have also identified a number of weaknesses in the Partnership’s governance arrangements”
“The Partnership did not always produce minutes of its meetings and financial statements”
“The Partnership acknowledges that its communication with local residents could have been improved and that there is still work to do in this area.”
Questions that continue to be unanswered concern income of £52,000 from the Fisheries, £46,000 from Sussex Coast College, £48,000 from an organisation called Employability, unexplained rental activity income of £54,000 and expenditure on the Fisheries of £71,000.
There are also questions concerning the losses that the Partnership has made recently which could be in excess of £200,000 and why a freehold community asset (25 Cinque Ports Street) has been sold to cover some of these losses.
The company continue to fail to provide minutes of meetings – for instance the recent meeting when they decided to spend £25,000 on yet more consultant’s fees. The consultant, being a former director of the company.
The really big question that remains is why we need an unelected and unaccountable Rye Partnership at all – when we have a Town Council which according to the Town Clerk:
“Rye Town Council has the General Power of Competence. It has an appropriately qualified clerk and meets the electoral mandate test of sufficient candidates to contest elections. This power enables Rye Town Council to do virtually anything it likes in the best interests of the parish”.
Winding up the Partnership may not be straight forward – for instance the freehold of Rye Harbour Stores – one of their valuable assets – may have to be passed onto another body rather than Rye Town Council and some of their other assets may be worth much less than they claim. However it is time for the Town Council to take over this role and bring to an end years of poor quality management together with the lack of transparency and accountability.
Photos: John Minter and Kenneth Bird