Desborough town council criticised for 'mis-using' its power over library issue

The town council's refusal to abide by the borough council's standards investigation's recommendation led to renewed criticism last night.

Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:00 am
Kettering standards committee met at the council's offices (pictured) last night to discuss the town council's position.

A town council refusing to abide by a standards investigation recommendation has been accused of a ‘misuse of power’.

Desborough Town Council was widely criticised last night (February 3) by members of Kettering Council’s standards committee for its latest decision to flout the recommendation made last August by the council’s monitoring officer, that town councillors who are also library trustees should not have a say on the town council’s funding decisions to do with the library.

Kettering’s monitoring officer Martin Hammond commissioned a report by solicitor Janet Kealey last summer into a complaint made by a Desborough resident that some town councillors had not declared an interest in the library when voting to hand over large amounts of Desborough taxpayers money to Desborough Community Library Hub (DCLH), the group planning to take over the running of the venue from Northamptonshire County Council.

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The investigation found that, although clerk Graham Thomson had not acted incorrectly in giving a dispensation to councillors connected to the library so they could also vote on whether funds should be granted, that the dispensation should be revoked in the future to draw a line under the matter. It also found those councillors had a clear conflict of interest.

The five town councillors who failed to declare an interest subsequently apologised at a public meeting but the town council decided that they should keep their dispensation and could do the same thing again.

In a letter to Mr Hammond, Mr Thomson, who is also the former Desborough library manager, said the matter had been discussed at two meetings and the town council decided not to implement the recommendation.

Last night Mr Hammond outlined the situation to the standards committee saying Janet Kealey had been ‘reasonably generous about motives’ in the original investigation findings and said the reason why the no vote recommendation had been made in the summer was to “remove any lingering accusations of bias or predetermination”.

He then asked the standards committee whether they wanted to continue with the matter, but said the only power the borough council had was to be able to embarrass the council by publicly criticising them.

Standards committee member Cliff Moreton said the council should continue to voice its unhappiness with Desborough Town Council.

He said: “To me it is a misuse of power. We are here to upkeep standards. If we say this is OK we are setting a precedent. They should have declared an interest – they didn’t.”

The committee decided to instruct the monitoring officer to write again to Desborough Town Council to say they should reconsider the dispensation and ask them to do some training.

During an exempt session in which the press and public were banned a report into a breach of conduct by the town council was considered. No one from the town council was present at last night’s meeting.

The library issue has caused a fallout within the council, with some councillors leaving their party over the issue. Desborough’s library was one of the 22 that are to be handed over to community groups by the county council which is reducing the amount it spends on libraries each year.

Last summer the town council voted to grant £120,000 towards buying the building from the county council and also granted £30,000 to help pay for running costs. As one of the five community libraries that would remain within the statutory offer, the county council had offered the library trust the option of renting the building for a peppercorn rent instead of buying it.

This is the second public debacle at Desborough town council in recent years after all of the Conservatives stepped down in 2016.

Town council elections will take place this May.