Occasionally, just occasionally, amongst the piles of spam and emails telling me that they think my articles are shit because they didn’t like me saying this, or that or the other, or that i shouldn’t write such rubbish (i know haha) i get the odd mail asking me to have a look at a certain person or organisation to see what i make of it. More often than not, there isn’t really much to it other than one person has been aggrieved by another etc. and certainly nothing that would make a genuine story that the public needs to know about.
Being a resident of Great Yarmouth (an oxymoron if ever i heard one) i had no prior knowledge of HPC (Hellesdon Parish Council) before now, as i don’t really take an interest in regional affairs outside my own ward, unless they are truly earth shattering.
This email however, interested me, due, in part, to the fact that HPC are showing a complete lack of respect toward a registered charity, but also because, upon further research, have shown not only a lack of respect to said charity, but also to its parishioners and also a grave lack of judgment toward the people they are set up to help.
Hellesdon Community Centre, was built on land that was purchased after the war by a group of returning local soldiers for the use of the local community. HPC then built the community centre (at cost, thanks to a local builder) and the Hellesdon Community Centre charity was set up in 1959 with a board of trustees, some of which, as laid out in their constitution, are parish Councillors. When the charity was set up the management committee and the PC worked together, but as the years have gone by tensions between the two bodies have surfaced.
The affore mentioned email, was sent to me by the Hellesdon Community Centre’s Manager, Kate Leggett.
“The PC have always treated the Centre as their own and they seem to forget that they have tenants in the form of the management committee that is set up to run the charity.
Our problem is that everyone thinks that Hellesdon Community Centre and Hellesdon Parish council are one of the same. I’d like to educate people and tell them that they are two separate bodies. One just happens to own the building that the other operates out of.
You wouldn’t like it if your landlord came into your home and started using your rooms, kettle, fridge, toilet etc while you weren’t there. This is essentially what they do.
They treat the Centre as an extension of their office (which is literally right outside the front door). As a landlord they should give us notice but they have used rooms without telling us, they have taken over rooms that have already been set up for other hirers. We have tried to stop this happening by insisting that they book any rooms that they want like all other users have to do, but because Claire (my administrator) and I are not on site all the time and the Centre is accessible from 8am until 11pm, they take advantage.”
This is Illegal under the Landlord and tenant act 1985. The two occasions when your landlord can enter the property without your specific invitation as both are implied (if not included) in your tenancy agreement and comply with the law. One is when carrying out the regular inspection visits (where they have to give you at least 24 hours notice in writing) and the other if there is a proven emergency.
“Many landlords feel that they would “just go in when the tenant is not there”, If in fact you were to enter onto the premises when they have clearly refused consent, they would have a right as tenant occupiers to start a claim against you for Trespass as they have a right over the premises as a tenant just as an owner occupier does.” Source – http://www.lawsonslet.com/2012/03/access-to-your-rented-property-when-the-tenant-wont-let-you-in-where-do-you-stand/
ergo, unless HPC have prior consent to be in the building, whether by booking, or agreement, they are, in fact breaking the law by doing so. I think we can all agree, that from people who are supposed to work for the benefit of the parish, this is pretty poor behaviour, even if we take into account it might be done naively (that is to say they are doing it without knowledge of the Landlord and tenant act 1985) then it still beggars belief, that a parish council who are landlords, would not familiarise themselves with afore mentioned act, and actually apply it, even more so when you realise that some of these people are actually on the board of trustees for the Community Centre.
Edit: A good friend of mine, who used to chair a parish council has informed me that Public Bodies are excluded from private law, thus, the law is not applicable to HPC as they are a public body. Their rules are set by their tenancy contract, in which nowhere does it state that they can act the way they have been doing. Ergo, whilst they may not be acting illegally, they most CERTAINLY are acting unreasonably.
“This isn’t helped by the fact that they employ the care taking staff that work inside our building. Being a charity we do not have the funds to pay for all the care taking staff that they employ. BUT for the record we don’t believe that they need the amount they do have.
Because they employ the caretakers they say we have no control over what they can do work wise within our building and we are not able to ask them to do anything. We have to go through the parish clerk if we want any work to be done. We tried to get them to agree to a service level agreement stating what we expected the caretakers to do as part of their duties, but they refused to do this.
They employed a “Housekeeper” that works within our building supposedly to manage the care taking staff. At no point was I informed of her employment or even introduced to her her formally before she started. I came into work one day to find her in the kitchen. I still have no idea what she is actually employed to do, and I suspect that if you were to ask the caretakers what she does they wouldn’t know either.”
I couldn’t find any information on whether there is any provisions for this under the above mention act, but i highly doubt that this is acceptable behaviour, for it strikes me as similar to a residential landlord having a cleaner come into your home and clean your house without you having any rights to say what you want done.
Again, this is an appalling lack of judgment from parish officials, some of whom are even local Councillors and county Councillors. These people, who are showing a grave lack of respect and judgment, are the people that the citizens of Hellesdon have put in place to protect them and their parish.
“We have had issues with them signing in any outside contractors in our health and safety signing in book. I have tried to explain to them that this cannot continue as how can you sign someone into a building that they are not going to be present in? If there was a fire and I used the signing in book as a register, I could potentially send firemen into a burning building to look for a person that could be in the middle of the recreation ground. Doesn’t make sense, does it?”
They have been known to remove our booking diary from the office and take it into their own office. Our diary holds personal details of other hirers, so when I was informed of this practice I removed the diary and locked it in my office until a duplicate diary for the caretakers could be written without all the personal info in it. Within hours of the diary being removed for safe keeping they had instructed the caretakers that they could not take any bookings or money. This had a detrimental affect on the running of the centre as we could potentially missed out on bookings when Claire wasn’t in the office and people couldn’t come in and pay deposits or settle bills etc.”
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 itself describes this offence in these words:-
1 Definition of “wrongful interference with goods”
In this Act “ wrongful interference” , or “ wrongful interference with goods” , means—
(a) conversion of goods (also called trover),
(b) trespass to goods,
(c) negligence so far at it results in damage to goods or to an interest in goods.
(d) subject to section 2, any other tort so far as it results in damage to goods or to an interest in goods.
So, we have an incident of HPC breaking the law, way to go so far HPC, you must REALLY be inspiring confidence in your parishioners. So far we have : 2 counts of breaking the law (taking goods without consent, which surely constitutes theft?) and two shocking lack of judgments…
“That leads me nicely onto the whole utility bill saga. In September 2010 the PC informed us that they would no longer be paying 50% of our utility bills, as was custom and practice. The reason they gave us was that as a PC they had to justify their expenditure and that they didn’t use 50% of the gas, water etc.
We said we understood why they couldn’t pay the 50% any longer and we agreed to let them install they own meters to determine their actual usage. We waited and waited, all the time we were covering the cost of the whole bill as they had stopped paying their share. We kept asking them for the 50%, as we’re believe that they should have honoured their part of the agreement until they had the meters fitted.
This carried on for over a year, until we finally sent them a bill for £5000+ for their half of the utility bill stating that if they didn’t pay we couldn’t rule out the possibility of legal action to recover this money. Again there was no response and we finally went to see a solicitor in May of 2012, which was 18 months after they told us that they were going to have the meters installed. Despite solicitors being involved they still procrastinated and didn’t reply to letters or supply details to our solicitors and our solicitor finally decided that enough was enough and started court proceedings to recover the debt. Even then, they contested the application and I believe they would have actually gone all the way to court in the hope that we would back down.
We did everything as advised by our solicitor to meet the pre-action mediation directive and asked to meet with them on numerous occasions to discuss the matter but they refused to do so. Eventually they agreed to meet with us as they were advised to do so by their solicitor. They paid the full bill totaling over £9200, but this still left us, the charity, over £3400 down due to solicitors fees and court costs. The court costs had already been actioned before they agreed to meet with us and were therefore not recoverable.
As I said before I firmly believed that they thought we would just back down and a few years ago we would have had to because we couldn’t have financially borne the cost of court, but having made the treat of court I wasn’t about to back out.”
Under the freedom of information act, i was able to ascertain that nearly £50,000 were spent by HPC in legal bills in the last 5 years, most, i suspect to be for a bill of £9200, all paid for out of parish money. Another great piece of judgment by HPC, well done you!
More details on the fuel bill row here
“I’m not sure when they would have had the meters fitted, if at all if we had not insisted. That in itself was a fiasco as the electrician they employed to separate the two systems did a bad job and there was weeks of corrections. Again they didn’t inform us when these people were coming in to complete the work. They would just turn up and expect to be able to cut the power whilst we had users in the centre.”
Again, the landlord must give reasonable notice before either they, or their agents carry out any work, with the exception of an emergency. So, just to re-iterate, that’s now ONE count of breaking the law (taking goods without consent) and three counts of extremely poor judgment.
Edit: Again, this provision would not be applicable by private law, but would have been stated in afore mention tenancy contract. However, HCC’s Lawyer agrees there is no provision in said tenancy contract to allow them to behave this unreasonably.
“Another issue we have had is with them taking over the place when they have had bookings. A example of this was last Christmas. We let the PC have our main hall free of charge every year for the community Christmas parties. As we are a community centre and the parties are for the community it makes sense. The PC run these events and use the main hall and the kitchen. However we have other paying functions booked into the other rooms. Last year I discovered, after a complaint was made by another hirer, that the PC members that were running their parties were refusing access to the other rooms that had been paid for by other clients. They were making them walk round the building and gain access to their rooms via the fire doors. I told them that this practice was to cease immediately as they had no right to refuse access to anyone, let alone a paying customer as it is a public building.
One of the PC reps on our committee brought this up at our monthly meeting stating that he was disgusted that I had written to them saying they couldn’t do this, and that he didn’t know what they were complaining about as he had helped the woman take her stuff round to the other doors. I stated that he had no right to turn people away and he didn’t like it. He promptly resigned with the parting statement “Roll on January 2016!” This is when our lease runs out…”
A local Council must act within the law. It can only spend, raise or use money if it has a statutory power to do so, otherwise it acts “ultra vires” or beyond its powers (more on this from the local council toolkit guides here) Refusing entry to a public building is outside of a local parish council’s powers. Such laws can only be enforced by Government, depending on the criteria or description of a public building.
So, now were up to one count of breaking the law, three counts of poor judgment, and one count of acting outside parish council power. Not looking good for you so far is it HPC?
“We also have the issue of twin and triple hatters on the PC. Some Hellesdon PC members are district councillors and also county councillors. I personally don’t see how they can be unbiased or not have a prejudicial interest in some things. I don’t think anyone should be allowed to stand for more than one organisation at a time. Otherwise surely a conflict of interest must occur?
I firmly believe, although I have no proof as yet that they have no intention of renewing the lease to us in 2016. For whatever reason they want the building back and they want to try and make money out of it. That would mean that the 1600 or so people that uses our Charity every week would either have to bear the cost of substantial rental increases, many of which would be unable to do so because we as a charity offer them a reduced rate because they are community based organisations, or they would fold.
To me this goes completely against the grain of what a PC is set up to do, which is to supply the best possible services in their community for the best possible price. Many community activities would cease if they took over the running of the centre.
I’m sure there are other things that I have forgotten. Please ask me anything if something doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t want to open us up to litigation of any kind, but I really am trying anyway to make people aware of what is going on and to separate us as a charity from HELLesdon Parish Council.“
A very damning tale so far already… It gets worse… I was intrigued, so i started doing a little digging, oh, freedom of information act, i love you. The last three parish clerks, who have all quit due to ill health, have been paid off after their services were dispensed with, totaling over £100,000 of, yet again, parish money.
So, i’m going to ask now, firstly, where did this money for the pay off come from? (i think we all know the answer to that already given HPC record of spending parish money) and secondly, what occurred to require pay offs to three ex clerks totaling over £100,000? those are fairly hefty sums of money to be dishing out to mere parish clerks, one has to wonder (and this is NO way and accusation, or allegation, merely a musing) whether it was a payment to ensure certain things remained secret and out of the view of the public eye… As Kate Leggett pointed out earlier, some of these officials are “double and triple hatters” meaning they hold more than one council appointment, be it at district or county level.
Now, according to the Hereford County Councils Association (Source – http://www.halchereford.gov.uk/what_does_a_clerk_do.php ) one of the main roles of a parish clerk is this: “chief administrative officer and is responsible for seeing that the business of the council runs smoothly and in accordance with the law.”
With this in mind, it is QUITE conceivable (hypothetically speaking of course) that they knew of some wrong doing within the guidelines of their roles, So i ask again, WHY were three parish clerks paid over £100,000 after they left the services of HPC? Are HPC trying to keep out of the public eye?
Quite an accusation you might say (remember it IS hypothetical and not so much an accusation, as a question), well i will reply with £100,000 is quite a payout to three mere parish clerks… think about that one for a while, wont you?
Why also was there a need for them to buy parish vans, which never get used, or increase the size of the parish staff, which then meant they had to spend £330,000 on a new office…
All this from the Parish Council that decided to ban a mother from accompanying her diabetic daughter to a Christmas party because she wasnt CRB checked…
“wait, what?” i hear you say? yes, indeed, HPC decided to ban Samantha Dade, a professional child minder who needed to accompany her five year old diabetic daughter, Tilly-Rose, to a Christmas party held in in the Hellesdon community centre, because she wasnt CRB checked. Oh, but hang on, Samantha Dade IS CRB checked, what with her being a professional childminder and all…
Hellesdon Parish Council insisted that the check has to be carried out by them as well, and that Norfolk County Council’s CRB check is not transferable. As ya do when you’re a bunch of egotistical, joyless knobheads.
So what happened next? Well, the local papers, the Eastern Daily Press, The Norwich Evening News, etc. all latched on to this story and a big stink was quite rightly kicked up. HPC, in the face of being made to look like the complete and utter fuckwits that they are in public, changed its mind and decided to revoke their decision on barring Mrs Dade from taking her daughter to their party on Saturday, but only after banning the Norwich Evening News and Eastern Daily Press from the meeting, as well as the members of the Hellesdon Community Centre staff.
So whats the score now? One count of breaking the law, four counts of poor judgment, and one count of acting outside parish council power, four counts of spending parish money poorly, including one count of dubious (although not necessarily illegal) pay outs, and a paaaaaaaaaaaartridge iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin a peeeeeeeeeeeeeear treeeeeeeeeeeeee…
It would surprise me if when the new elections are held, in 2014, any member of this parish council still holds their appointment, so come on citizens of Hellesdon, do they right thing and vote these incompetent, unreasonable fuckers out and end this once and for all.
Disgusted by this? Hellesdon Parish Council will hold its Parish Meeting on Tuesday 7th April at the Hellesdon Community Centre, please feel free to turn up and have your say, after all, it IS a public meeting.
DISCLAIMER: Please note, these musings (other than where specifically stated) ARE my own and do not necessarily represent those of Hellesdon Community Centre, their Committee, or any of their employees. All views within are personal, and not necessarily shared by anyone named, or otherwise within this blog.