£70k parish grant is a ‘very big mistake’

PUBLISHED: 10:20 19 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:21 19 March 2015

Spring in the Meopham area

Spring in the Meopham area


Controversy is raging in Meopham over a decision by the parish council to spend more than its entire annual income refurbishing a sports pavilion writes Sarah Linney...

The Judson's Pavilion in MeophamThe Judson's Pavilion in Meopham

Controversy is raging in Meopham over a decision by the parish council to spend more than its entire annual income refurbishing a sports pavilion writes Sarah Linney...

MEOPHAM Parish Council voted last week to give a grant of £70,000 to Meopham Colts FC for the refurbishment of the Judson’s Pavilion – despite having received just £69,060 in council tax in this financial year.

And councillor Max Bramer, who voted against the grant, says the council didn’t even follow the proper procedures in arriving at its decision.

He says no application form or accounts were presented at the meeting – documents which he says the council would normally expect to see before awarding money – and that no conditions were placed on the grant, meaning that the club doesn’t, in theory, have to use the money for the intended purpose.

While there is no suggestion that they wouldn’t do so, and no criticism is being made of the club, he says the council seemed to have abandoned its normal rigour when deciding to award the grant.

“I think it’s a very big mistake,” Cllr Bramer said.

“The project to extend the pavilion is very controversial and very unpopular in the village. In a parish poll last summer, people voted 3-1 against going ahead with it. That poll was then rubbished on the grounds that not enough people voted.”

He says that the council ought to keep the money, refurbish the pavilion itself and rent it to the club, as this would cost taxpayers less.

“The real reason for doing this is so that if there’s a different council after the May elections, and they decide to cancel this project, the money is legally the club’s. They can bounce the newly-elected council into doing the project whether it wants to or not,” Cllr Bramer added.

In a further twist to the tale, Harry Rayner, the council’s treasurer and chief financial officer, resigned both posts shortly after Monday’s meeting.

However, he maintains that the council has made the right decision.

“The council felt it was a well-supported junior football team. I understand they have more than 200 members,” he said.

“There is a severe deficit of facilities for young children in Meopham, and we have a problem with vandalism and graffiti. Community facilities would be a useful investment on the part of the council, which is there to provide facilities to support its people.

“Wrotham Parish Council gave much more than that to their community for sporting facilities – they spent more than £250,000 on a new pavilion. The precept is a relatively small amount of the parish council’s resources.”

“Only one member opposed the proposition, and he has always voted against youth facilities. Is the proper use of parish council funds, just to be sat on? Is that good value for money?”

He said the correct procedures had been followed, that the project had not been opposed in a poll and that the project was popular with villagers .

And he denied that the council was trying to push the project through before its successors had the chance to pull it.

“We have seen the club’s accounts and they are available to the public on its website,” Cllr Rayner added.

“They did write to us, and the money does have to be used for the refurbishment of the changing rooms and facilities at the recreation ground.

“It seems that the Colts are in a position to raise much more money than the council. They are likely to get grants from the Football Association and the Football Foundation.

“No lease has been agreed, so I can’t see that that end [forcing the new council to go ahead with the project] would be served, as without a lease I can’t see that the Colts are in a position to proceed.”

However, Cllr Bramer insists these claims are incorrect.

“It is nonsense. The precept is almost all their income,” he said.

“I have almost always voted in favour of youth facilities. I just don’t want to see the money squandered.

“No paperwork was circulated at the meeting and I have never seen the club’s accounts, although I asked for them. And there were no conditions attached when we agreed the grant.

“You wouldn’t run a business like that, and it’s no way to run a government.”

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