Response to BBC Inside Out - "Melton's Town Estate Uncovered"

Melton Mowbray Town Estate's Response to BBC Inside Out - "Melton's Town Estate Uncovered"

BBC programme - Inside Out
Inside Out Statement Town Estate Response
Town Estate charity does not carry out criminal record checks on park workers, despite advice from the Charity Commission to do so. Under current legislation, unless an organisation is undertaking a ‘regulated activity’, there is no requirement for employees who do not have responsibility of children and/or vulnerable adults to be CRB checked. This is continually reviewed alongside the Town Estate’s policies and procedures as legislation dictates. The Town Estate are committed to ensuring that all children and vulnerable adults are protected and kept safe from harm whilst engaged in activities organised by the Town Estate, and as far as is reasonable practicable on its grounds.
Town Estate is “an institution where two of the first women elected claimed to be sidelined”. The Town Estate reaffirms equality of treatment between people and rules out discrimination between members of its personnel (trustees or employees) on account of age, sex, race or religion, as one of the basic principles of its personnel policy. When the Scheme of Arrangement for the Town Estate was last reviewed (1989) it records that Mrs Margaret Routen was a serving trustee. Since 1989, Mrs Dinah Hickling, Mrs Rinah Wall and Mrs Dinah Rudman have also served as Feoffees which have all preceded Mrs Sue Gowans and Mrs Pat Cumbers as trustees.
The Town Estate, which is supposed to be democratic, does not allow public scrutiny of its meetings. The 14 trustees have equal responsibility and liability for the management of the charity. The Scheme of Arrangement requires that a majority from the trustees present at a meeting shall agree any motion or policy, for it to be passed, this is a fundamental part of how the Town Estate is run; through democracy. The Town Estate is not a public body but a charitable trust for which the 14 trustees have legal liability and accountability to the Charity Commission for its proper management and sustainability. The Annual Town Meeting reports to the people living in the area of benefit with the specific objectives to deliver the annual report and accounts, appoint the Auditor for the ensuing year and to elect trustees to any vacant positions. During the year, there are channels open for people from the area of benefit to contact the Town Estate on issues of concern, regarding the progress of any of the projects etc.
Everyone in Melton should have a vote in how the estate is run. The Scheme of Arrangement places sole responsibility in the running of the Town Estate with the trustees. The people in the area of benefit influence how the Town Estate is run through those elected to the office of trustee. Decisions upon changes and alterations to Town Estate parks are not taken without consideration of public opinion. The Chris Burnett report canvassed the people of Melton Mowbray regarding changes that people wanted to see in the parks.
Melton Mowbray’s Town Estate was set up in medieval times and its operation could be said to belong to a feudal society. The Scheme of Arrangement was last changed in 1989. A revised version that will ensure the management of the trust accords with current expectations and guidance of the Charity Commission is presently being appraised by the Charity Commission following a period of public consultation.
Ever since a woman was elected to a senior position on the estate, it has been mired in controversy. The 14 trustees have equal responsibility and liability for the management of the charity. The Scheme of Arrangement requires that a majority from the trustees present at a meeting shall agree any motion or policy, for it to be passed, this is a fundamental part of how the Town Estate is run; democracy rather than a dictatorship.
Pat Cumbers, a former Mayor of Melton, found her authority removed by the Town Estate three days after she was elected. The 14 trustees have equal responsibility and liability for the management of the charity. The appointment of Senior Townwarden is titular and bestows no additional executive responsibility upon the holder other than that which may be devolved to the Senior Townwarden by consent of the majority of trustees.
The locks were changed on the Town Estate offices so she could not look at the books. Trustees have free access to the office during business hours. There is no requirement for a trustee to have access to the office at other times without prior arrangement with the Town Estate Manager who is responsible for the security of the building. The locks to the Town Estate office were changed following a breach in security, where it was discovered that the offices had been accessed by parties unknown without authorisation.
Mrs Cumbers could not look at the books. Mrs Cumbers was able but declined to look at the ‘books’ during normal business hours, where ALL policies, procedures and paperwork is available for viewing by trustees.
Suspension of Mrs Cumbers At a meeting of the trustees on Monday 10th November 2008, the trustees voted on the motion to ‘suspend’ Mrs Cumbers as a consequence of her actions (that were considered to undermine the best interests of the Charity). The trustees voted by a significant majority to ‘suspend’ Mrs Cumbers from further meetings until the end of her term of office in October 2008. However, following a meeting with the Charity Commission on the 10th December 2008 the Commission advised the Chairman of Feoffees that- ‘there are no provisions within the government document that allow the Feoffees to suspend a Feoffee’. This ‘ruling’ by the Charity Commission was adhered by and Mrs Cumbers continued in full, her duties as a Feoffee (trustee).
The Charity Commission later told the Town Estate they did not have the power to suspend her. See Above
Mrs Cumbers is also concerned at the lack of Criminal Record Checks on park workers. It follows the jailing of a park kiosk attendant, Michael Bonshor (now deceased), for sexual grooming of two underage schoolgirls. Under current legislation, unless an organisation is undertaking a ‘regulated activity’, there is no requirement for employees who do not have responsibility of children and/or vulnerable adults to be CRB checked. This is continually reviewed alongside the Town Estate’s policies and procedures as legislation dictates. In the specific case of Michael Bonshor (now deceased) during the recruitment process his references were excellent, and his character appeared to be unblemished. The programme provided no evidence that a CRB check would have revealed anything untoward.
Inside Out has checked and both Melton and Hinckley & Bosworth councils check their staff, as do other councils which employ park staff in Leicestershire. We understand that some authorities undertake job specific CRB checks against an identified risk where employees have a duty of care for children and/or vulnerable people. Town Estate employees are either engaged in ground maintenance or serving at kiosk counters in our parks, unless an organisation is undertaking a ‘regulated activity’, there is no requirement for employees who do not have responsibility of children and/or vulnerable adults to be CRB checked. Ground Maintenance and Kiosk employees do not lead activities involving children and/or vulnerable adults.
Another woman who was elected as a “feoffee” or trustee on the Town Estate was Sue Gowans. She says she was not allowed in the Town Estate offices. All trustees, without exception, are entitled to access the Town Estate Offices during normal business hours.
Mrs Gowans also alleges she was told the price of hiring the stalls for a charity Christmas fair depended upon how she voted in a Town Estate meeting. This was an allegation made by Mrs Gowans at a trustee meeting but it was unsubstantiated and denied by the person alleged to have said it.
Mrs Gowans voted against a commercial deal and then found the price of stalls had tripled in price from a previous agreement. Stall charges for external ventures are made on the same basis, using tariffs on a per stall basis. The charges for the Christmas Fair (Victorian) were made on the same basis as other commercial ventures that hired stalls.
The estate (Town Estate) took her (Mrs Gowans) to court and lost. The Trustees were advised of their duty to recover justifiable costs due to the Town Estate and proceedings were instituted through the small claims court. It was not a consideration of the judgement that Mrs Gowans was a trustee of the Town Estate . ‘Inside Out’ also neglected to mention that the Town Estate tried to instigate mediation with regard to the dispute on no less than 3 occasions, but Mrs. Gowans declined to do so.
Mrs. Gowans says she was also shaken to find a picture of a man wearing only underpants with the words “Caution” emblazoned upon the front. When Mrs Gowans mentioned this at a trustee meeting she was advised to immediately report the matter to the Police. This ‘advice’ was omitted from the programme, as was whether Mrs Gowans acted upon the advice. Wherever the picture came from, the Town Estate was not responsible.
Mrs. Cumbers tried to stand for re-election but they refused to allow her to stand. The Scheme of Arrangement requires only that trustees are elected at the Annual Town Meeting. The manner in which elections are conducted at the meeting is for the trustees to determine. The protocol for persons seeking election as a trustee is thus. Persons seeking election as a trustee of the Town Estate declare their intention 42 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting - this is supported by the Charity Commission. Those seeking election as a trustee, collect a nomination pack and submit their intention the stipulated 42 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting. In 2008, Mrs Cumbers followed the protocol by submitting nomination forms and was elected to the position of Junior Townwarden. Mrs Cumbers voted in favour of this process and was present at the meeting in December 2008 when the Charity Commission said it supported the declaration of intention, prior to the Annual Town Meeting. Mrs Cumbers collected the nomination pack and she had every opportunity to declare her intent to stand for re-election in 2009 having collected the nomination pack in good time to give 42 days notice.
One of the present trustees’ sons was appointed to replace her without a ballot. Five nominations had been declared 42 days prior to the meeting and there were five trustee vacancies. The five positions open for election in October 2009 were that of Senior Townwarden, Junior Townwarden, and three positions for Feoffees. The outgoing Senior Townwarden Mr Sage collected a nomination pack, declared his intention to stand for the position of Senior Townwarden and being unopposed was appointed to the position of Senior Townwarden. The outgoing Junior Townwarden Mrs Cumbers collected a nomination pack but did NOT return the nomination pack prior to the meeting. Consequently, when Mr Johnson (having collected and returned a nomination pack) declaring his intention to stand for the position of Junior Townwarden, he was appointed unopposed to the position of Junior Townwarden (the position previously held by Mrs Cumbers). Three people submitted their intentions to stand as Feoffees 42 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting. Dr Williamson, Mr Rawson, and Mr Southerington, all 3 had proposers for the positions as trustees, and all 3 had been seconded and were subsequently appointed at Feoffees.
Some in the town have called the Town Estate a “men’s club” where they are unwilling to listen to the opinion of people in the town. At a great deal of time and expense, the Town Estate canvassed public opinions of what was wanted in the parks, this was reported in the Chris Burnett report (2002) Where park users were canvassed of what they felt was needed to improve the facilities on offer by the Town Estate. Some of these recommendations have come into fruition, under the Big Picture Appeal, and these improvements (since 2006) have come through donations i.e. at no expense to the Charity, and no expense to the tax payer. There also seems to be a misinterpretation of the Scheme of Arrangement; that decisions of the Trustee Body must be subject to vote at the Annual Town Meeting. This is not the case, the Scheme of Arrangement clearly states that it is the trustees, who have equal responsibility and liability for the management of the Charity. While public meetings of the Town Estate may be held to learn the views of those people in the area of benefit, the trustees are solely accountable for the decisions.
One café owner said: “Basically their attitude is, we’re going to do what we want so stuff the lot of you. Nobody seems to have any say in what’s done”. See above. The Town Estate believes that the view of the café owner is not reflected by the vast majority of the town centre business community which is regularly sounded out by the Town Estate Manager. It is also important to recognise the channels open to the residents of Melton Mowbray to voice their opinions upon the goings on in the Town Estate. They have the Town Estate Office, where they can write in to ‘voice’ their opinions/concerns. They have the Town Estate website, where there is further information regarding the Charity, and e-mail from the website in the ‘Contact Us’ section.
The Town Estate has refused to take part in the Inside Out film despite several requests over the past 10 months As a result of advice given by the Charity Commission in December 2008, following complaints by Mrs. Cumbers and Mrs. Gowans the Trustees declined to participate in the programme. They had every right and genuine reason not to do so.