by Brian Pain
(* a state of chaos and confusion; a muddle)
In the last Faversham Eye, we published councillor Nigel Kay's justification for Faversham Town Council's purchase of 12 Market Place.
It didn't make a lot of sense. Rambling and semi-literate, it shed little light on the council's decision-making process and made a number of highly questionable claims.
We took the view that, as an explanation, it simply wasn't good enough. Borrowing to buy the former shoe shop has lumbered Faversham with more than £2.5 million of repayments for the next 50 years. Councillors should have been upfront about their reasons for the scheme and open about the cost. They were neither. The decision was made in secret. The town was 'consulted' only after the deal was done and kept in the dark about the cost even then.
Our councillors owe us a proper explanation. So we issued a challenge:
If Mr Kay agreed to subject his 'explanation' to scrutiny by an independent financial professional who then supported his decision, Faversham Eye would donate £5,000 to a local charity.
We heard nothing.
So, at the next town council meeting on 11 March we asked Mr Kay he had anything to add to his original statement. He said no, adding that we should 'work it out' for ourselves: a rather supercilious response from an elected representative.
Did the rest of the town council agree with, or even understand, Mr Kay's arguments for borrowing such colossal amounts? Or were they, like many in the town, unconvinced by his baffling statement?
At our request, town clerk Louise Bareham promised to put the question on the agenda for the next council meeting. When it failed to appear on the agenda, she explained: “The Mayor did not consider the item to be appropriate at this time.”
Perhaps it will be more 'appropriate' after the elections on May 2, when many of the councillors who voted in secret to buy the former shoe shop will have retired or been voted out?
Tired of being stonewalled, we made some Freedom of Information requests.
We asked for the names of the two qualified accountants who, according to Mr Kay, had found the case for buying the shop 'overwhelming'. One was a Swale Borough Council officer named Nick Vickers and the other turned out to be none other than Swale and town councillor....Nigel Kay!
We also asked to see documents supporting their claims, only to be told: “Faversham Town Council does not hold the documents you have requested.”
According to Faversham Town Council's Document Retention Policy, the council is obliged to maintain and retain documents by data protection and freedom of information laws.
So either the council has broken the law by losing or destroying them, or there never were any documents. Perhaps Messrs Kay and Vickers arrived at their 'overwhelming' conclusion without so much as jotting a few numbers on the back of an envelope. That would be entirely in keeping with this hubristic enterprise and the cavalier way certain councillors have pursued it.
Meanwhile, Conservative election leaflets are making some sensational boasts about the Conservative-controlled council's financial acumen based on the shoe shop saga.
Buying 12 Market Place, they say, saves £700,000 in rent by spending a mere £2.5 million, an argument Mr Kay would no doubt find overwhelmingly logical.
In reality, as reported in issue one of The Faversham Eye, Faversham Town Council used to rent offices at the Alexander Centre for around £10,000 a year. Now it pays around £80,000 a year on mortgage payments, running costs and rates for its new offices. The difference comes out of our council tax.
Perhaps we're missing something. But at a time of austerity, when Faversham can't afford to keep its library open full time, committing the town to £70,000 in unnecessary extra expenditure certainly doesn't look like sound financial management.
Based on Mr Kay's Nostrodamus-like predictions, in 2066, the shoe shop will be worth £3 million. Many of us will be dead by then but perhaps our offspring will raise a glass of £130-a pint beer (based on inflation over the past 40 years) to the farsightedness of Nigel Kay. Or possibly not.
Even claims about permanently housing Faversham's Magna Carta in the building don't stand up to scrutiny. Unless an extra £800,000 is found to covert the former shop space, the Magna Carta will remain locked away in the Kent Archives and to date grant applications have been turned down.
It still looks like a ill-conceived and financially reckless shambles. But maybe there's a plausible explanation for all of this. As soon as Mr Kay comes up with one, we'll let you know.