The below email has been sent to Councillor Lyons.
Amongst others who have received it are:
- The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP – Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations
- Jonathan Lord – Member of Parliament for Woking
- Jim Taylor – appointed by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations as Lead Commissioner at Woking Borough Council
- Julie Fisher – Chief Executive, Woking Borough Council
- Councillor Ann-Marie Barker – Leader of Woking Borough Council
Dear Councillor Lyons,
I refer to your below Statement.
Brendan Arnold, Interim Director of Finance and Section 151 Officer released a Letter to all Councillors on 19th July 2023 under the heading:
‘Use of Community Infrastructure Levy for schemes at Ward Level’
Firstly, the title was inaccurate and concerning as there are differences between ‘Ward’ and ‘Neighbourhood Forum Plan Area’ as regards the receipt and subsequent expenditure of that part of CIL funds that are held in trust by the Council on behalf of the community. However, what is not in dispute is that such funds do not belong to WBC and were not and are not theirs to spend. This Letter to Councillors gave rise to more questions than answers.
Secondly, at a subsequent meeting of Byfleet, West Byfleet, and Pyrford Residents’ Association attended by Councillor Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of WBC, we were advised that WBC would issue a subsequent statement to Woking residents explaining in non-technical language what had happened to what I will now refer to as Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (‘NCIL’).
If your Statement is that explanation, then I fear that it fails in its objectives. We remain uncertain and uninformed as to the realities of the future.
I note that you state “Officers have advised all Councillors, irrespective of their political party, that the spending controls that have had to be introduced must apply to all financial transactions which have an impact on cash coming into and leaving the Council’s accounts…” Are these by any chance the same Officers whom the government appointed Inspectors repeatedly in their two reports described as ‘not fit for purpose’?
I have a very simple question regarding NCIL, and bear in mind that at the WBC Executive Committee meeting held on 13th July the portfolio holder Councillor Dale Roberts made the very clear statement in an answer to Councillor Graves regarding CIL (which for these purposes includes NCIL) – “there is no cash”.
And I wish to acquaint you with one quote from the Woking Joint Committee (the Woking BC/Surrey CC committee then responsible for the overall administration of CIL/NCIL) at their meeting on 23rd June 2021, Agenda Item 10 (there are several more such statements but one will suffice):
“2.2 Woking Borough Council has set up a separate account for each Ward or Neighbourhood Area to manage the CIL money”.
So the question is:
Currently around £2 million of community NCIL funds are ‘missing’. West Byfleet has the greatest portion at just over £1 million.
- Are these funds ‘available’ but “‘rozen’ because of the S.114 Notice and the deficit on the General Fund?; or
- Have these funds actually been spent, and if so on what?
If the situation is 1 above then the neighbourhood forums/wards’ share of CIL never belonged to WBC. It was held by them on behalf of the community; it is nothing to do with WBC’s now suspended investment programme and these funds must be released and reinstated without delay.
If the situation is 2 above, then as there are very clear rules as to what such funds legally may be spent on, and as there is a very clear procedure as to the approval for such expenditure which requires inter alia the agreement of the community, then there can be no doubt that these funds have been misappropriated. If this is the case, then is it now time for the police to be informed?
You conclude your Statement as follows:
“I am equally frustrated by the impact of the Council’s spending controls on the delivery of services and support to communities, but I accept this is required and I will continue to represent and advocate for communities to ensure that CIL schemes can progress at the earliest opportunity.”
Let me assure you that your level of frustration is insignificant when compared to the anger of the community, and in present circumstances counts for very little. We remain appalled at this degree of incompetence and duplicity. Given the financial realities for WBC, we see few if any reasons to be convinced that this a temporary position as you describe it.
Byfleet, West Byfleet, and Pyrford Residents’ Association.