Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Frodsham Town Council and Frodsham Foundation

We had an interesting debate last night at Frodsham Town Council - and it all related to whether Frodsham Town Council should review an earlier decision it had made to pay the Foundation £11,000.  To understand what was going on we have to go back into history.

Now Frodsham Foundation was created by FTC with support from many partners including:

  • Cheshire West and Chester;
  • Cheshire and Warrington Social Enterprise Partnership LEP;
  • Princeway Medical Centre;
  • Northern Markets (they run the Thursday Market);
  • all our local Primary Schools and Helsby High School;
  • Frodsham Life;
  • Love Frodsham;
  • Community Association
  • Youth Association
to lead the Mary Portas pilot bid.  The bid document made it very clear that FTC was leading the bid only until the point when Frodsham Foundation had been incorporated - or in other words only up until the Foundation was created.

CWaC had decided that there would only be one bid to become a 'Portas Pilot' town from the Borough - and they decided to back Frodsham ahead of Chester, Northwich, Winsford, Neston, Ellesmere Port... They very much welcomed the innovation that the creation of the Foundation would bring.  CWaC's support was essential - as the 'Portas bid' required the local authority - in other words the Borough Council to be the accounting body.  An accounting body is the entity which is accountable to the government for ensuring that any money given to the winning team is spent and managed appropriately.

Question 1.1 in the bid form said:

1.1 Organisation name (in whose name the application is being made – if a partnership/consortium/BID, 
state the lead).
The answer given was:
social enterprise company limited by guarantee (to be established) effectively being a consortium of local businesses, community and voluntary groups with Cheshire West and Chester Council (“CWaC”) and Frodsham Town Council (“FTC”).  The bid is led by FTC pending incorporation of Frodsham Foundation. 

Question 2.1 in the bid form said:
Who will lead the pilot? 
The answer given was:
Frodsham Town Council pending incorporation of Frodsham Foundation 
Question 2.2 asked: Who will be the Accountable Body (Please attach a confirmation letter)? 
The answer given was:
Cheshire West and Chester Council (letter attached) 

The bid document went through how the Foundation would seek to work if it was successful.  Unfortunately, as we know, Frodsham didn't win.  However with all the work done to create the Foundation FTC and CWaC decided to create the Foundation.  

FTC agreed to put in seed corn funding of £20,000 in the first two years of the Foundation.  CWaC agreed to put in £15,000 for each of the first two years too.  This CWaC resource was new additional money for Frodsham.

Frodsham Foundation was duly incorporated in September 2012.  

The following month the government announced that it would encourage those town teams that had not been successful in their Portas Bid to apply to become Town Partners - and it they were successful they would be awarded £10,000.  The Foundation applied to become a Town Partner, and then with the essential support of Graham Evans MP and CWaC - who had to act as the accounting body the money was duly received by the Foundation.  The Department of Communities and Local Government duly paid the Foundation £10,000 via CWaC.

On 15 March 2014 the Foundation held its first AGM.  The Annual Accounts were presented where all the income and expenditure were declared and published.  The accounts showed that the Foundation had an income of £53,272.

The income in the first year had come from FTC, CWaC, DCLG's £10,000 and profit on activities such as the Bee Festival.

In other words, leaving aside all the activity of the Foundation the investment put in by each of the partners was new additional money to spend and invest in Frodsham.  Something that had never happened before.

FTC paid the first promised £20,000 - but hasn't paid the second £20,000 (yet).  FTC did commission the Foundation to provide profile and marketing support for FTC and the wide community.  The commission was for £11,000 - close to the £10k of the Portas bid.  Some at FTC claimed not to have known that the Foundation had received additional funds from DCLG.  They suggested the DCLG £10k should have been paid to FTC.  The fact that this additional funding was announced on national television for all the 300+ Town Partners seems to have passed some councillors by.

Five FTC Councillors signed the following special resolution seeking to un-pick the £11k FTC commission:

The undersigned councillors wish the following resolution to be put at the full council meeting of Frodsham Town Council on 28 April 2014
In view of recent information received Council should decide whether all or part of the funding agreed to be paid to Frodsham Foundation (minute 269) should be withheld

It is arguable that the £10,000 ‘Portas’ money should have been paid to FTC since it was this body which made the original bid.  More importantly, it appears that the majority of Town Councillors were unaware of this government funding when deciding on the request for a total of £11,000 from FTC made by Frodsham Foundation.  Some or all of the £11,000 might be better spent funding the 2014 Christmas festival which is facing a significant reduction in funding this year, or on some other major project with much local support in the current consultation.'

Councillors Bondi, Pennington, Shearn, Redhead and Pusey signed this resolution which led to last night's debate.

The debate was a surprisingly short affair in the sense that few participated in it.

With the exception of Cllr Bondi who proposed the motion there seemed little appetite in the other signatories to carry the debate forward.  So I took the initiative and took the council through the original Portas bid documents and the correspondence with DCLG all of which made it abundantly clear that only the Foundation was eligible to receive the money.  FTC never was eligible.  To my mind anyone reading the Portas bid papers should have seen this immediately.  Every councillor was given a copy of these papers 14 days in advance of the debate ... however I wonder how many had read them?  I then went on to explain how important the work of the Foundation was in supporting the town and wider community - such as the work with NEETs, business support etc.  FTC was having an influence for the first time in these vitally important areas.

As it was the special resolution was defeated.  Interestingly Cllr Pusey voted against the resolution he had signed and Cllr Redhead abstained.  Only three Councillors voted for the resolution they were:
Cllrs Bondi, Pennington and Oulton.  Cllr Shearn was absent from the meeting..

I'd like to think we all want the Foundation to be successful.  This year alone, in addition to receiving funds from CWaC the Foundation has received monies from:
  • University of Chester;
  • Royal Society of Arts Manufactures and Commerce 
and it is seeking funds from:
  • Heritage Lottery Fund;
  • EU
Everyone in Frodsham is eligible to be a member of it - if you subscribe to the Foundation's aims and will abide by its rules.  If you want to join the Foundation just go to frodshamfoundation.net.or contact Kate Dodgson via the Frodsham News facebook page. Everyone in Frodsham has been invited to join the foundation as part of the consultation.  It will be interesting to see how many do.