Medway Council to purchase Pentagon Centre

Those intrepid investigators over at The Political Medway had the scoop last night that Medway Council are set to purchase the Pentagon Centre for up to £45 million.

The Council already own the freehold to the Pentagon Centre, that is they own the land the Pentagon Centre sits on, but it is leased to Chatham LLP, who own and manage the Pentagon Centre itself. A partnership between Bridges Ventures (a property fund manager) and Ellandi (who own a number of shopping centres in the UK), Chatham LLP also own the freehold to 205-209a and 181a-189 High Street, shops which stand at either side of the High Street entrance to the Pentagon. It is the head lease to the Pentagon and these adjoining properties Medway Council is proposing to acquire.

The devil in these kinds of acquisitions is, as they say, in the detail. And while the public have been made aware of the proposed purchase and the budget to be set aside via an agenda item for next week’s council meeting, as the capital purchase must be approved by full council, the public report barely covers four sides of A4.

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Medway’s last UKIP councillor vows not to represent Peninsula residents

UKIP’s last remaining councillor in Medway has vowed not to turn up to any more council meetings, as he was stripped of his committee memberships by the Conservatives and Labour.

Cllr Roy Freshwater, who sat on the Business Support and Children & Young People overview and scrutiny committees, stormed out of this evening’s full council meeting in protest at the council giving the nod to a report recommending that he and the council’s three independent members lose their seats on the council’s committees. He has said he will not turn up to any more council meetings, denying his constituents in Peninsula ward a voice from one of their three councillors.

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Councillor Mick Pendergast resigns from UKIP, leaving party with one councillor in Medway

Peninsula Councillor Mick Pendergast has today resigned from UKIP, according to Medway Elects:

Although there has not yet been an official comment from Cllr Pendergast, it is understood he has already communicated his decision to council officials. His reasons for resigning from UKIP are not yet known.

Cllr Pendergast will see out the rest of his term as an independent councillor.

Analysis: Decline of Medway UKIP

Cllr Pendergast’s resignation is the latest in a series of blows for the local party, which just four years ago held the accolade of being home to one of only two members of parliament to be elected for UKIP.

What started as a fairytale coming top in a nationwide poll and beginning to take seats away from Labour and the Conservatives on Medway Council soon began to crumble and descend into farce, as their vote share disintegrated and attention turned to their increasingly unhealthy obsession with Islam and stories of former party officers suing them for unpaid expenses (including cream crackers).

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Kelly Tolhurst resigns from Medway Council

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has resigned her seat on Medway Council.

Tolhurst, who has represented Rochester West since 2011 and been an MP since 2015, made the decision after being appointed as an Assistant Government Whip earlier this week. She said:

While I am extremely honoured to have been asked to join the Prime Minister’s team as a Government Whip, I accept that after discussions with colleagues and residents it is clear I am unable to carry on with my role as a local authority councillor without conflict.

Working solely as the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, I now have the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level.

I believe that this decision is without doubt the best thing for both the constituency and the ward of Rochester West.

The wording of this statement begs two questions:

  1. If she believes that she “now [has] the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level”, was she not representing the whole of her constituency before?
  2. If she has decided holding two national jobs means she can no longer effectively represent her ward constituents, will her parliamentary and former council colleague Rehman Chishti, who also received a promotion this week to one of the Vice Chairmen of the Conservative Party, come to the same decision and also resign from the council?

In a brief statement, Neil Davies, Chief Executive of Medway Council, said:

I have today received, and accepted, the resignation of Cllr Kelly Tolhurst as ward member for Rochester West with immediate effect. We have begun arrangements to fill the vacancy.

The arrangements begin by advertising the vacancy in the ward. If two electors within the ward write to the Chief Executive asking for the vacancy to be filled, a by-election will be called.

And let’s face it, with a probable slate of six candidates for the contest, getting two signatures will not take long.

Frustratingly, before today, I was in the process of writing a lengthy blog post to start the year by taking a look at next year’s full local council elections (trust me, in context it made sense!).

The introduction to that post will now need to be re-written:

In short, I had updated my projections model to try to predict the level of support for each party in each ward, not in an effort to predict the outcome, but rather to see where each party was likely to win and where the key battles would be fought.

I will now postpone publication of that post until after the by-election, as it will likely give me more invaluable data to refine the projection model.

Meanwhile, the people of Rochester West are looking at another election, making it the eighth vote they will have had since May 2014:

  1. EU Parliament election, May 2014
  2. Rochester & Strood by-election, November 2014
  3. General election, May 2015
  4. Council election, May 2015
  5. Police & Crime Commissioner election, May 2016
  6. EU referendum, June 2016
  7. General election, June 2017
  8. Council by-election, TBC

And although at least one election every year between 2014 and 2019 may not necessarily excite voters in Rochester West, for political geeks like me it makes the start of this year very interesting indeed.

And, of course, Medway Elects will be there for the ride!

The inaccurate reporting of Medway councillors’ allowances

Every year, each local authority is required to collate and publish allowances and expenses claimed by their elected members.

Councillors are entitled to a basic allowance to perform their duties, with additional allowances payable to those who hold special responsibilities (Leader of the Council, Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Mayor, etc.) in recognition of the additional work involved.

All members are also entitled to claim for travel and subsistence, although this usually excludes items such as stationery and phone calls, which are factored in to the basic allowance.

At the end of the council’s financial year, the authority must calculate how much each councillor claimed (if anything) and produce a basic report with a simple breakdown.

Medway Council’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March, and allowances are usually published within four months, with the latest being the 2013/2014 report, which was published in August 2014:

Year Date of Publication
2014/15 July 2015
2013/14 August 2014
2012/13 May 2013
2011/12 May 2012

However, given we were now in September and no report had yet been published, last week I submitted an FOI request for the information. On Tuesday, the allowances report appeared on the Council website, albeit looking rushed and possibly incomplete. It wasn’t until I got round to examining it in detail that I realised just how poor a report it actually was.

The most striking detail was that the report had rounded all the figures to the nearest pound. It is, in fact, the first time the Council has not included the pence figures where the amount to be declared was not a whole pound.

Members who served for the whole period were given an allowance of £8,783 exactly, but those who left the Council in May 2015 may not have received £992 exactly. Similarly, those who joined at the same time may not have received £7,815 exactly, and Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, who claims she stopped drawing her allowance “since [her] election to Parliament” may not have received £1,464 exactly.

(As an aside, I have worded the last sentence very carefully, as the fact that Cllr Tolhurst’s basic allowance was markedly different to those of members who left the council at the same time she was elected to Parliament suggests that she had stopped drawing her allowance some time after her election – seemingly to the end of May 2015 – and not “since [her] election”. Whilst there is, of course, nothing wrong with claiming the allowance whilst also an MP (most simply don’t out of principle – or, if they do, donate their allowance to good causes within their ward), her entry in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests could, perhaps, be worded so as not to imply that she stopped claiming her allowance immediately on her election to Parliament and, in fact, stopped on a certain date. But, I digress…)

So, rather than having the exact figures of allowances and expenses claimed by Medway councillors, we have a roughly accurate report which looks something like this:

Allowances

Now, like most people, I am not particularly interested in where Cllr Rupert Turpin went that he needed to claim £5 in travel & subsistence expenses, but I am interested enough to want to know whether the journey cost £4.51, £5.49 or £5 exactly.

Indeed, that no reference is made to the fact that the figures have been rounded means that it is unclear what method of rounding has been used (whether only up, only down or both) and whether the figures have been arrived at by rounding the total for each category or each individual item before addition. After all, if two claims were made for £1.51 and £2.51 respectively, then rounding each individual claim would total £5 (i.e. £2 plus £3), whereas only rounding the total of the two raw figures would produce £4 (i.e. £4.02 rounded down).

Readers may think that I am being pedantic, but I would simply ask this question: how is this report “full and complete” if the Council have employed rounding and created ambiguity as to the exact figures involved?

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