The leader of Staveley Town Council (STC) says he has ‘nothing to hide’ as steps are taken to investigate the causes of its financial failings.
Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC) swooped in last month with a £400k loan agreement to save STC from bankruptcy and now the two authorities are working with the Local Government Association and National Association of Local Councils to appoint a team to identify what went wrong.
The town council’s Independent leader Councillor Paul Mann said anyone involved in the investigation would need to be completely detached.
“There have got to be no councillors whatsoever,” he stated.
“Regards the investigation, I’m trying to stay away from it, I have got nothing to hide.”
Coun Mann maintains that when he became leader in 2019 he had no idea of the severity of the council’s debt, stating the Labour group that was in control previously had caused a lot of it.
However Labour has hit back, claiming careless overspending on Coun Mann and the Independent group’s part put STC where it is today.
CBC’s Labour leader Councillor Tricia Gilby said they were hoping to appoint an independent expert in the next couple of weeks to lead the process of establishing an ‘improvement board’.
She explained: “The improvement board will firstly be tasked with investigating the circumstances behind and causes of Staveley Town Council’s financial problems and secondly developing a short and medium-term improvement programme to return Staveley Town Council to a position where it can deliver value for money services to Staveley’s residents and businesses.”
The loan was agreed on condition that it be secured against a STC property, which CBC would take ownership of if the town council failed to keep up its repayments, and surveys have since been carried out at both the Speedwell Rooms and Staveley Hall.
When previously questioned by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the borough council would neither confirm nor deny reports that it was interested in acquiring the Speedwell Rooms site for housing, and Coun Mann has commented the community facility is worth a lot more to CBC as development land.
Coun Gilby said STC could have applied for grant funding during the pandemic, like neighbours Brimington Town Council, which she claims could have amounted to as much as £144k, however Coun Mann said he simply had not known about such funding, otherwise he would have applied for it.
“The various Covid-19 support grant programmes have now largely closed,” Coun Gilby said.
“However, we are currently in dialogue with the Government about whether any of the grant funding could still be made available to Staveley Town Council.”
UNISON chief Dave Gorton said he is currently working on behalf of up to eight former STC employees who have still not been paid in full.
He said the threat of court action still stands if the authority fails to make the correct payments for backdated pay, redundancies, HMRC and union membership costs that were not passed on.
Mr Gorton said he hoped the former staff would be paid accordingly when STC receives the money from CBC, which will hopefully be in the next week or so.
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