SWEET CHARITY

By John Wellard

The sequel to CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME published in the Faversham Eye March 2020, the Bensted Charities secretary, Sue Bayford, in response to an email requesting the criteria of how funding was granted, stated the following;

The Charities only pay out charitable funds on receipt of a copy from the organisation/individual to prove that the money is being spent correctly, "and/or UNTIL they have been able to secure the balance of funds required to complete the Project".

An application form can be obtained from the Charities on which the project needing funds can be described and costed. Which, of course, is a logical and reasonable method of disbursing funding. Unless, it would appear to an outsider, the applicant was the then Tory controlled FTC - or maybe Swale Council.

Here's how it seemed/seems to work. When Town Councillors make a decision to instigate a local project (possibly decided behind closed doors) - a War Memorial - or a footpath, for instance.

Step 1. The Town Councillors wearing their Councillor's hats, decide that a project (such as above) is a great idea, then vote it through. Step 2. They then approach the Charities - still wearing their Town Councillor's hats - for funding. Step 3. The Town Councillors - they also being Trustees of the Charities, change hats, and then grant themselves the funds they deem appropriate.

So, in effect, the Town Council and the Charities are joined at the hip and can bankroll any scheme they both see fit - apparently without going through the niceties of normal application procedures required by any other applicant. Which seems to suggest this happened in the case of the proposed Creekside Footpath. Whether or not the reader approves or disapproves of the creation of the path, the way that Charity funding for the Town Council created project came about, raises some very pertinent but, as yet unanswered questions.

On 21 November 2012, on the instigation of the FTC, KCC convened a Regulation Committee Members Panel Inquiry whereby the proposers and objectors to the footpath could present evidence and arguments. Minutes are still available online. One Item from the Minutes refers to the issue of funding;

Item 13; Another objection (by the residents of Faversham Reach/ Waterside Close), was the overall costs to the public should prohibit the proposal. The then KCC Rights of Way Officer said that this was not a matter for KCC to take into consideration on when determining this application (by FTC). All costs - including those associated with bringing the new route into suitable condition would be borne by the APPLICANT- In this case FTC.

But now it is apparently not FTC who will be paying. It has been revealed under the Freedom of Information Act that, apart from the Charities funding, the entire project is being paid for by KCC in direct contradiction to the 2012 statement by the KCC PROW Officer.

Indeed, FTC has apparently relinquished all financial responsibility - even going so far as rescinding the previous Tory Town Councils offer of a meagre £5,000.

Also there is Item 20 of Minutes of the now defunct Faversham Creek Consortium dated 17/05/2012; Andrew Osborne stated the costs of the diversion (the footpath) would be MET BY THE TOWN COUNCIL OR THE MUNICIPAL CHARITIES.

But even though in 2012, KCC had stated that FTC were, as applicants for the project, liable for the costs, everything changed. KCC Members Panel Agenda 22/2/2016 para 15 shows the Public Rights Manager stated there were “significant risks to maintain Orders if they could not be implemented” - in other words insufficient funding ability by the applicant (FTC) - which was indeed the case. If funding the project as dictated by the KCC PROW Officer in 2012, still stood, FTC, saddled with a rapidly expanding and totally un-budgeted project, would be bankrupt. So, with the Charities, KCC and Swale Council coming to the rescue. FTC walked away Scot Free - leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab for the planning cockup made by FTC back in 1987 under the auspices of Mayor Andrew Osborne, Cllr Cosgrove, the allied Town Councillors and SBC Planning Dept. Like Topsy, the costs just “growed and growed” - and still keep growing.

As early as October 2008 the Municipal Charities were offering funding for the footpath PRIOR to any Orders being made and PRIOR to the 2012 KCC Committee Members Panel Inquiry and the subsequent Secretary of State Inspectors Inquiries - the one in 2018 eventually confirming the Orders. So on what basis were the pledges made? Apparently not by any applicant providing a fully costed proposal. Was this when the risible estimated costing of £4,500 by Cllr Mike Cosgrove, plucked out of the air?

But we now know that FTC is no longer liable for any costs. Which leaves the question of the role of the Charities. In 2012 There were no plans, specifications, budget or any other contingent issues formulated or resolved by KCC. So how could the Charities - given the criteria set out by Secretary Sue Bayford - even begin to decide how much money should be granted - in the case of the Bensted £22,000?

An email to Sue Bayford asking for any details of an application by FTC received the reply that the Bensted "do not hold those details" Really? The Bensted has no record of an uncharacteristically high grant when the individuals who asked for and granted the funds were simultaneously Councillors and Trustees? This beggars belief. Labour Councillor Julian Saunders is also unable to shed light on the matter - which is interesting considering he is also a founder member of the Faversham Footpaths Group - set up specifically to promote the proposed footpath, and also a Bensted Charity Trustee. Cllr Saunders stated in an email that the Creekside footpath was an integral part of the local Labour Party policy. Whether it is true that the Labour Party lined up behind the Tories and Charity Trustees back in 2012 and were gullible enough to believe the cost -as claimed by Cllr Cosgrove- was only going to be £4,500, is a matter of conjecture requiring some clarity in the public interest if they want to enhance their credibility.

In total, the Bensted and Municipal Charities (Trustees also numbering now ex -Tory Councillors ) pledged- or have already paid out £46,000 towards the footpath. But the present whereabouts of all this money is still unclear. At time of writing, no Trustee, Councillor or ex Councillor involved, seems willing or able to divulge this information. Do KCC already have it in their coffers? Or Swale Council? Or do the Charities still hold it in waiting for a project instigated by the previous Tory controlled FTC, now costing KCC in excess of £102,000 and as yet still not fully budgeted? Nobody outside this apparently secretive cabal seems to know. In the case of the War Memorial - as reported in No.8 edition of the Faversham Eye, the key drivers of the project were prominent local Conservatives all of whom were trustees of the Bedsteads - four of them Councillors. The War Memorial Committee raised £206,000. The cost of construction, £166,000 - meaning the Charities did not even have to pledge any money. Therefore, a £40,000 surplus languishes in the Charities coffers completely tied to War Memorial projects and thus frozen and useless for anything else.

It is curious that the Charities appear to consider the restoration of the Creek Bridge as far less vital to Faversham than a footpath through a housing estate. No large donations then for what is crucial for the future of the Creek. The upsurge of public support and the amount of public donations towards the cost dwarf the support for the footpath. A leading Charity Trustee is on record as saying that Charity support would be doubtful or small. Minutes of the Creek Consortium 20/11/2014 show Andrew Osborne stating; “he would try to secure a commitment from the Charities but he thought a formal application from KCC to both would be required”. Subsequently Item 14 of the Creek Consortium meeting 15/1/ 2015, shows Mr. Osborne again stating any Charity funding “would be small” - thereby raising suspicions that the majority of the then Tory Councillors and Trustees were tacitly opposed to the regeneration of the Creek or a functioning bridge, but instead, favoured the building of more houses. The final Charity offer is believed to have been a paltry £3,000 - further reflection maybe, of how little importance a fully navigable Creek and functioning bridge really was to Andrew Osborne, Cllr Mike Cosgrove and the coterie of fellow Councillors and Trustees.

So, were “formal applications “to the Charities to grant footpath funding made? Or was funding merely done “on the nod” and without record- or the records just “somehow lost”? It would appear that the arcane an opaque tradition of the previous quasi-feudal regime of FTC and its alter ego the Charities, have not been fully relinquished.

Maybe, the recently incoming non-Tory Trustees could throw some light on these issues- albeit arising before their appointments and rectify any possible previous misdemeanours or maladministration of Charity funds. We can but hope.