Saturday, 14 April 2018

Seeking Facts in a Sea of Obfuscation

by Brian Bamford
CARL FAULKNER, the Independent candidate for Spotland and Falinge ward in the coming local elections in Rochdale on May 3rd, has written a letter to the Rochdale ONLINE Blog complaining about how people have been excluded from the cabinet meetings of Rochdale Council. 

Mr Faulkner writes:  'It is my belief that the authority which permits this, is being abused to prevent press and public scrutiny of contentious matters.'

He gives a local example 'discussions that have been taking place with a view to the leasing out of Falinge Park to a private organisation (Vintage Worx).  The incentive being that this organisation will then be able to apply for external funding grants of up to £2.5 million, to help maintain and improve the park (this is a claim made by the company itself).  There has been no public discussion of this proposal.'

 And he claims:  'Labour councillors and at least one senior council employee, are actively preventing public and press scrutiny of the plans to lease out the park.'

This suggests a reluctance on the part of the Rochdale Labour council to let the public know what is going on.

In his letter Mr. Faulkner tells us the '...process [to lease out Falinge Park to a private organisation (Vintage Worx)] commenced with the presentation of a report by Mark Widdup (Director of Neighbourhoods) at a Cabinet meeting held on 1 February 2017.'

And surprise, surprise, he tells us that 'at that meeting it was recommended that both he and Councillor Cecile Biant should be appointed to the board of Vintage Worx.'

But then there was no proper public scrutiny, because the press and public were not allowed to be present when the report was presented.  At the same time there has been no public discussion of this matter at any public forum before or since that time.

Now given what has happened with the basket-case company Carillion in Tameside, where the former Labour leader of Tameside MBC, Kieran Quinn, truly had his feet under the table with the Carillion bosses through his power base on Tameside Council and his seat a the head of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, it may be of some concern that the Rochdale Labour Councillor Cecile Biant is ascending to the board of Vintage Worx*.  Vintage Worx is not another basket-case giant like Carillion PLC, rather it is a pygmy development trust that could be an acorn from which great oaks grow.

Vintage Worx describes itself as 'a community led not for profit organisation' registered at Companies HouseThis development trust seems to survive by applying for grants for what can presented as good causes, and a place like the notoriously deprived Falinge presents itself as something of a honey pot for grant gathering

But what really worries Carl Faulkner, who I spoke to this morning, is the secrecy which surrounds these kind of operations and developments in Rochdale.  

He writes:  'Falinge Park was donated to the people of this town over a century ago.  It therefore belongs to the people of this town.  It is not a council purchased capital asset.  It is for the people of this town to have a say in how it is managed and whether or not its legal status should change.
Any procedure to change its status – particularly if finance is an overriding concern – should be open and transparent.'

 Is this a vain expectation given that Rochdale is virtually a one-party state with no serious opposition from the conservative councillors.

*  Meet Vintage Worx Community Development Trust:
Vintage Worx Community Development Trust (CDT) is a community led not for profit organisation dedicated to removing barriers to opportunities and committed to helping people maximise their talents and realise their full potential.
Based within Falinge Park, the local park of one of the most deprived areas of the country, the team of passionate volunteers who run Vintage worx have a nine year track record of successful engagement with the local community, a record that has only been possible through the sheer volume of community involvement in the projects, activities and events that are delivered.



Mick Coats Green party said...

This development worries me. We need to save and protect our green spaces. Friends organisations are excellent and the contributions of local people is invaluable. However, although this is a 'not for profit's' organisation it is a commercial concern registered at Companies House. We need to take the utmost care with our communal assets.
Secondly, their seems to be a cloak of secrecy surrounding events. Meetings not open to the press or public, with a local councillor going on to the board of this company.
Like our green belt, parks and other green spaces given to the community have to be safeguarded and we need to be give the greatest scrutiny to any proposed developments. We need to ensure that we do not end up with our parks in private hands. They belong to us all.

Mick Coats
Green party

Councillor Allen Brett said...

?? But why would you want to come but it is open to public

Sent from my iPhone