Telford. Swapping books for beer?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s been an interesting few months looking at the repercussions of government grant cuts in Telford.  

Back in January, a broadside of threats to services was fired by Council finance chief Cllr Lee Carter, including closure of libraries in our market towns, but within days, parish & town Councillors & Clerks were posting up on Facebook that they had been assured by council officers that their libraries were not closing and alternative arrangements were likely to be sought.*

In a series of budget roadshows held by the Council, I caught up with leader of the Council, Cllr Kuldip Sahota, who told me that deals were being sought to pass on the responsibility for provision of Library Services to Town Councils.  This is important for 2 reasons.  Firstly, while Telford & Wrekin Council have to jump through referendum-shaped hoops to raise tax over and above 2%, Town & Parish Councils are not bound by government restrictions on increasing their precept**.  A vote that is hellishly expensive to organise, and a chance that the electorate will not share the desire to increase their contribution.

Secondly, Cllr Lee Carter also maintains that handing over these services to a more local council helps with sustainability, sharing spaces and staff with other services in one building. Indeed, the affected town and parish Councils, one by one are adopting this opportunity.  Nobody wants to be known as the folks who closed the libraries.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Some commentators on social media have asked the question about trained Library staff in these new places being replaced by volunteers, but it’s early days for this yet.  

So while the Councillors are hacking back services to save £30m over the two years, there are two initiatives that seem at odds with the desire to make savings.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Pride in Your Community

The Pride in Your Community fund was launched in 2014.  Well before the current set of cuts, but they were on the horizon.  The £1m fund (later increased to £2.5m) was designed to align with the Councils priorities of job creation, regeneration, and health and wellbeing of the residents. Some of the work done was fixing road signs and repairing paths & walls.  Stuff that you may well have expected the council to do anyway, whatever banner it falls under.  There is a handy list here that you can search by ward to see work.

The fund was not well received by the Conservative opposition, and was not adopted for their alternative budget, although it should be noted that some of the projects may well have been supported, just not the fund.  The Pride fund was voted through at the full council meeting, and some of the bigger projects included topping up Madeley Town Council with enough cash to purchase the Anstice (£100k), purchase Eustace Rogers Coracle Shed (£40k), and purchase The Hub in Newport (£58k).  A full list can be found here .[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Some of the more interesting winning projects are where money has been applied for and awarded on behalf of private organisations.  For example, a community interest company called Pisces WM won £22k to improve access and refurb the toilets of Dawley Social Club, a private members club.  Pisces WM back in 2011 claimed to have been ‘working with 27 partners in 15 separate European States’ but now their website is just one page and lacking an address.  The Chairman of Dawley Social Club is Graham Bould, ex-Chair of the local Labour Party and an ex-Cllr. He works for Pisces WM.  Remember the name Pisces WM, we’ll come back to them later.  In fact, remember Dawley Social, because we’ll be coming back to this too at a later date.

Out of Area

Other winners include Trench Tots Nursery, a Limited Company who won £100k to build a new nursery, and Kick Ass Endurance, who also won £8,500 for sports equipment to deliver outdoor sports events.  Looking at their website and Facebook page the closest they have got to Telford is Buildwas, and most of their activity takes place in Weston Park. Both not actually in Telford.  The Telford Half Marathon scheduled for Februrary 2016 ( referred to in this blog was cancelled.  

Tom Watson, for Kick Ass Endurance said “We applied for the grant to deliver sports events in the Telford and Wrekin area,the half Marathon being the main event which was planned for July of this year, however due to the road infrastructure being changed and the need to make all runners safe it has been put off till 2017…There was never a time scale given to undertake the half marathon”.

On the locations, Tom stated that the majority of the participants are from TF postcodes. “Due  to few locations to undertake our Mud and obstacles runs they have been based at Buildwas and Weston Park, and we have two more locations to add next year once a full risk assessment process has been undertaken, one in Wellington and another in Newport.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Pride In Your High Street

So, a one off £2.5m fund?  No.  This year, a Pride in Your High Street Fund was launched. A million pounds up for grabs for projects that ‘help boost business and attract more people to the high streets’.

The fund is split into two parts: An £800,000 Revitalise Fund aimed at increasing the prosperity of specified High Streets and Local Centres and a £200,000 Innovation Fund for new activities and cultural events.

In January 2016, ‘Following a comprehensive evaluation process involving independent assessors’ the winning bids were presented and rubber stamped by cabinet, then full council, despite some questions being asked by Cllr Joy Francis (Conservative) specifically about a bid by Good2Great to offer £230k worth of training and workshops to retailers across the borough.  Over a quarter of the Revitalise fund.   Cllr Shaun Davis (Labour) responded, saying that ‘all applications have gone through a full due diligence process’.

Take a look at the winning bids on the Council website.

There are some great ideas in this list with clear objectives and you can see how they could improve the High Streets..  Some, I’d like to take a closer look at.  Lets take a look at two of these.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″ css=”.vc_custom_1459501597644{background-color: #eaeaea !important;}”][vc_video link=””][vc_column_text]Video from Telford & Wrekin Full Council Meeting. Click it to play the relevant bit.

‘all applications have gone through a full due diligence process’

-Cllr Shaun Davies[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”5756″ img_size=”360×400″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Oakengates Events Ltd were granted £14,000 for key events.  Now Oakengates has a superb carnival that people from all over Telford enjoy, but this particular company which made it’s way through the ‘comprehensive evaluation process’ was actually dissolved on 27th October 2015, one month after the deadline for bids to be submitted, three months before the awards were made public in January.

Pisces WM CIC (Remember them?) Well they won £4,500 to put some events on in St Georges.  The only problem is, they were also dissolved in February this year, one month after the awards were made public.  Graham Bould who put the bids together for Pisces WM, still appears to be emailing people in connection with the project.  Graham commented yesterday  that a director had retired and at that point, Pisces WM CIC did not know that they had been successful in their bid,  ‘We have been in touch with companies house to reinstate the company and will be fully operational in the new financial year so the events will still go ahead’.

Both these bids have, according to Cllr Shaun Davies, ‘have gone through a full due diligence process’ and yet both companies submitting these bids were dissolved before the Council Meeting.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]‘Serious Concerns’

Cllr Andrew Eade, Conservative group leader on hearing about these bids, commented: ‘“After raising serious concerns at Full Council about the financial stability of companies which were due to receive substantial amounts of tax payers money in the Borough through the Labour Council’s ‘Pride in the Community scheme’ the Conservative Group of Councillors received an absolute assurance from Cllr. Sean Davies that all companies had been thoroughly checked and found to be viable.”

“It is now clear that either the statement made by Councillor Davies was completely untrue, mislead the public and Full Council, or he simply has no idea about what is going on with his own flagship scheme.”

Accountability and the operation of the ‘Pride in the Community scheme’ is now in tatters and a matter of serious concern.  

We would have hoped that the Cabinet member in charge of this fiasco would have been capable of telling us that parts of his scheme had collapsed and if he didn’t know of these huge problems, it does raise the question over capability and credibility of those concerned.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”5746″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Accountability and the operation of the ‘Pride in the Community scheme’ is now in tatters and a matter of serious concern.
-Cllr Eade[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

The Lord Hill, Dawley

Finally, Great Dawley Town Council bid for, and won £100k to buy and refurbish the Lord Hill Pub.  Buy and refurbish.  Now this isn’t some down at heel boozer in need of a new carpet and a lick of paint.  This is a derelict building, unused for seven years.  

The licenced trade is a difficult place to make a living. Take a look around at the most successful pubs.  Almost all are in the hands of pub chains, where a business model has been tried and tested until it’s a slick operation and then rolled out and installed like a McDonalds.  Pubs like The Fallow Field, Thomas Botfield or Grazing Cow.  According to the tender documentation, partial demolition was estimated to be up to £25k.

So who is asking for the pub to be brought back into life?  I was sent a screenshot of a facebook post that may shed light on that.  “A few Labour Councillors”.

I fully understand why GDTC and indeed Dawley residents want this place sorted out one way or another, but at the time these bids were being approved, there was a risk that Telford would be a council buying & renovating a pub at the expense of Library Services.  Donnington and the award winning Mobile Library service are still under threat of closure.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”5751″ img_size=”full”][vc_single_image image=”5748″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]More to come.  If you have any thoughts on this please leave a comment below or email me in confidence at – I never reveal my sources, but would like to thank the people who have contributed to the research and fact checking in this article.  I did ask Telford & Wrekin Council for a comment but I didn’t get one before publishing.

*Council Officers are the employees of Telford & Wrekin who carry out the orders of the elected Councillors.

** The amount they take from you in tax.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Update from Telford & Wrekin Council:

“You are mixing up the Pride In Your Community programme with the Community Pride Fund. The Pride programme was in respect of road and environmental works and saw an 80 per cent drop in resident complaints in respect of environmental issues.

“The £1m Community Pride Fund was open to all organisations across the borough and went through a cross party panel of councillors and independent members.

It was never a one off fund and we have a commitment to re-run the scheme in 2017.

Pride In Your High Streets:

“When the projects submitted by Pisces WM and Oakengates Events Ltd for Pride In Your High Street funding went through the Council’s due diligence process and at the time of the PIYHS Cabinet report of the 28th January, both were properly constituted and no alerts were raised by our financial and legal checks.

“Following approval by Cabinet, the Council commenced further due diligence in order to prepare formal Funding Agreements and at this point it came to light that these organisations had been dissolved.   Both organisations are proposing to re-launch and the Council’s legal team will determine whether the projects will have to be re-submitted.

Community Pride Fund Grants:

“The grants were allocated in November 2014, all grants over £10,000 are paid in stages so the applicant needs to provide evidence that they have spent the first part of the grant before the next part of the grant is released.  For those who receive a grant under £10k they need to provide monitoring information about how the grant was spent and what the outcomes were.

“Kickass Endurance received £8,513 – they completed a monitoring form in May 2015 after they received the money which showed at that stage they had held an event in Ironbridge.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

10 thoughts on “Telford. Swapping books for beer?

  • April 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say the scheme is in tatters. There are good solid schemes and organisations in there which are rooted in the local community.

    • April 1, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Agreed Susan, there are some very solid Schemes who deserve to be funded and that is not disputed.


      I am particularly concerned at the amount of funding going towards certain dubious projects in Dawley, many of which are seemingly vanity projects of a particular councillor who also seems to have his sights set on being a prospective Telford parliamentary candidate.

      For T&WC to support the refurbishment of a Town Council owned public house (The Lord Hill) with public money when many independent operators have been struggling to make a livelihood (using their own money) seems grossly unfair? The message also seems to be greatly at odds with the recently released T&WC lifestyle guidance on alcohol consumption!

      If T&WC were supporting an individual/local business wanting to refurbish the pub as an ongoing concern (as I believe has been done with other listed premises locally?) I wouldn’t necessarily be in opposition but the current Lord Hill plan really does leave a nasty taste..

      Just to add that this is an excellent and informative article by Telford Live.

      I have a feeling that this is not that last we have heard of this..

  • April 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Is it true that Dawleys band D equivalent precept was £49pa three years ago, and is now a staggering £160pa? No wonder Dawley are so keen on ‘Partnership’ deals with T&W, taking on services, if they are able to charge their residents so much more money. But, of course, sadly in Dawley there is only a limited proportion of residents who pay council tax anyway (see their rate support grant), so what do they care?

  • April 1, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Here’s a possibility for the Lord Hill. Refurbished pub ground floor with separate entrance to upper floor where a library could be found. Instead of swapping books for beer combine them. The library open 9 to 5. The pub open 6 to 11.

  • April 1, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Most of the grants have been allocated to friends of the Council, ! Wellington for example has received very little and the Save the Clifton project absolutely nil even though they have applied three times and have submitted a petition with almost 3,000 signatures. It is obvious to the general public that these grants go to specific council wards which happen to be represented by certain councilors. Sadly I have no confidence in the process and there are no signs of any real regeneration in Wellington – it’s in a very poor state due to council neglect

  • April 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Very interesting article confirming what I’ve thought about T&W council. Wellington virtually ignored in the Pride fund and completely ignored in the innovation fund
    The money allocated for the Lord Hill is ridiculous, in what way will a pub restore Pride?
    Wellington wanted 20k for a brand new festival for the younger generations in town,but all the council cares about is things in their own wards that they can boast about come election time

  • April 4, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Buying and running a pub isn’t an automatic licence to print money, it’s a time consuming , dedicated, profession that will turn a profit if it’s done right and offers the customer something the other local pubs don’t. I can’t see that happening.

  • June 13, 2016 at 11:30 am

    T & W C paid £250,000 for the Lord Hill back in 2009 and at that time £125,000 was set aside to refurbish it but not as a pub. The current council have really done nothing for ordinary Dawley people since 2011 apart from give money to Dawley Labour Club in King Street. Still Dawley elected labour councillors so they got what they wanted.

    • June 13, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Since this article was published, the pub has been sold off privately and is not part of the Pride in Your High Street programme of expenditure.

    • June 13, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      I don’t totally disagree with you Adrian but lets be honest your lot were certainly no better when holding the purse-strings.

      Your sanctimonious rants both here and in the local press are getting rather tiresome and make you look rather foolish TBH.


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