"Press Release on behalf of Dunstable and Houghton Regis Labour Group
Tony Swain, leader of the Houghton Regis Town Council Labour Group applauds Tim Welch’s principled decision to join the Labour Party, meaning we are now the largest group on the Town Council and are in a stronger position to represent hard pressed and hard working members of our town. Tim recently won his seat in Houghton Hall ward, but has been disillusioned by the Liberal Democrats position on some key issues and was impressed with the principled stand of the Labour group. Amongst these issues were the decision to refuse almost £1/4 million of Market Town Regeneration Fund that was on offer from Central Beds Council and the ridiculous decision to go ahead with a vanity project to provide Mayoral robes and a hat to “add dignity” to the role of mayor of Houghton Regis at a cost of thousands of pounds when residents in Houghton Regis already pay nearly the highest level of council tax in Central Bedfordshire. These were decisions that the Labour group unanimously opposed and Tim has decided that this position was in the best interest of the people of Houghton Regis and has chosen to join us to further the interests of our community.
Tim will be warmly welcomed by fellow Labour Councillors Chris Slough, Richard Scott and Martin Kennedy representing all wards in Houghton Regis."
Let's look at this more closely.
"Tony Swain, leader of the Houghton Regis Town Council Labour Group applauds Tim Welch’s principled decision to join the Labour Party, meaning we are now the largest group on the Town Council and are in a stronger position to represent hard pressed and hard working members of our town. "
Timothy George Welch only won a by-election on Thursday 27 October 2016 where he represented the Liberal Democrats in Houghton Hall Ward of Houghton Regis Town Council. The turnout was less than 10%. Labour had no candidate.
When the Council was elected in May 2015, the Council's new composition was 5 Liberal Democrats, 5 Labour, 3 Community Independent Alliance, and one Independent.
Since then, 1 Labour member went Independent after 7 months, 1 Lib Dem went Independent and subsequently resigned, another Lib Dem went Independent in February 2017.
Tim Welch's defection leaves the current composition as, 5 Labour, 3 Lib Dem, 3 Community Independent Alliance, and 3 Independent.
Market Town Regeneration Fund
"Tim ... has been disillusioned by the Liberal Democrats position on some key issues and was impressed with the principled stand of the Labour group. Amongst these issues were the decision to refuse almost £1/4 million of Market Town Regeneration Fund that was on offer from Central Beds Council "
In June 2016, long before Mr Welch's election, Town Councillors of all parties had expressed their concern over the Market Town Regeneration Fund which required matched funding from the Town Council. You can read about that meeting in my report on here: http://www.hrnd.co.uk/2016/06/town-councillors-unhappy-with.html
At a subsequent meeting of the Council that I witnessed, again long before Mr Welch stood for election, the MTRF was again on the agenda.
"The potential investment in support of the town centre from the project equated to £437,700 which comprised a contribution from CBC of £211,600 and from HRTC of £226,100." see 22 August meeting.
Cllr Abbott (Independent) suggested that the motion before them should be voted on. The meeting was chaired by Labour's Cllr Slough, and he put the motion to the vote. No discussion took place, denying the few visitors the opportunity to understand all points of view. The vote effectively declined to accept the terms of the Fund offer. I blame all the members of the council for not ensuring that the issue was fully discussed as there was so much money involved, especially the chair of the meeting who has responsibility under Standing Orders:
Cllr Swain approached me last night on this issue. To be fair he wasn't at the first meeting so didn't witness the concern shown by the councillors at that Council Meeting. During our brief exchange he confirmed my suspicion that he had been taken by surprise by the vote that eventually decided the matter. Which **eyebrows raised ** makes it all the more damning since his Labour colleagues perhaps should have let him know in advance so that he could have been ready to argue their case.
"Amongst these issues were the decision to ... go ahead with a vanity project to provide Mayoral robes and a hat to “add dignity” to the role of mayor of Houghton Regis at a cost of thousands of pounds"
I won't defend the council's expenditure on the robes. It's not something I personally agree with.
But in the scale of other expenses it's not such a big deal.
The evidence to the council meeting was that the cost would be around £1100 plus carriage, then the councillors agreed to add a bicorn hat to the purchase and collectively voted in favour of it.
I attended this meeting in January 2017 and took notes. Only an Independent councillors word was taken for the cost of the bicorn hat of between '£200 and £300'.
http://www.civicrobes.com/Pages/Prices/Prices.htm website is referred to in the report to council and actually puts the cost of a bicorn hat at between £290 and £410. So the cost now rises to £1500. Then there will be the occasional cleaning costs. To my knowledge cleaning costs have not been discussed at a council meeting, but I understand from other councils that this is an infrequent expense.
As to the purchase being a 'vanity' project, that is an emotive word. I would point out that the report to council stated that it was "an agreed Outcome within the Council Vision".
In conclusion, to say "thousands of pounds" and use the word 'vanity' in the Press Release was taking a liberty. And, although Labour councillors spoke opposing the purchase of the robes, there was no recorded vote taken, so the whole council bear the responsibility for the decision to buy these robes.