‘Fake news’ warning after theatre complaint costs taxpayers £6,500

The Calverley Square civic complex and theatre

‘Fake news’ warning after theatre complaint costs taxpayers £6,500

by William Mata | 31st October 2018

TAXPAYERS funded a £6,500 ‘forensic investigation’ of the Borough Council’s finances following a complaint from an objector to the Calverley Square project.

The council has not named the individual, but a Times search of their records found it to be former Tunbridge Wells Alliance Chair Robert Chris.

He took issue with the authority’s 2016/17 expenditure report, relating to the £90million civic complex and theatre and said his concern was with the council claiming the project offered ‘value for money’.

“I have never argued against a new theatre, I think it’s a great idea,” said Dr Chris.

“But I have seen no evidence that a 1,200 seat auditorium will be anything other than a financial and cultural disaster.”

His challenge forced an external auditor to complete a nine month deep search, which did not find the council had done anything wrong.

Dr Chris co-founded the Alliance to fight the civic complex. Supporter Brian Ransley recently sought a Judicial Review to examine the process behind the decision making, but was ordered to pay more than £5,000 when the effort failed.

Cllr Tracy Moore said the council [TWBC] had been the victim of a ‘fake news campaign’ and warned opponents not to ‘abuse the process’.

The Conservative portfolio holder for economic development spoke out in a Cabinet meeting on Thursday [October 25].

She praised the council’s management after auditors Grant Thornton presented a clean external report – the authority’s ninth in a row.

All local authorities are subject to the annual examination of financial statements.

Lee Colyer, Director of Finance, said: “The objector [for 2016/17] was most persistent. Objecting to the statement of accounts is a very serious matter and this triggered an independent forensic style examination.

“The process lasted nine months and the auditor completely dismissed the objection – stating it had not identified any significant weaknesses in the council’s decision making arrangements.”

Completion of the report into the objection cost the council £6,565 – which was shouldered by the taxpayer. It does not take into account the hours of council officer time used to complete it.

Cllr Moore said: “It is right that the public hold elected representors to account, but it is wrong to abuse the process.

“Everybody accepts that Calverley Square has proved more divisive than we could have imagined. This council has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure the decision making and finances are independently assessed.

“It really does feel like a fake news campaign against this council at the moment. Accusations fly about our finances and our competence.

“But data, audits and this investigation show time and again this is a well-run council.”

Dr Chris had an appeal to Grant Thornton rejected and decided against a Judicial Review.

“Technically it’s a victory for the council but I remain of the view they have failed to meet their statutory obligations to deliver value for money in relation to the theatre,” he added.

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