A MAJOR shake-up in the debating chamber looks set to turn Petworth into a new ‘can do’ council.
The dramatic changes have taken place since the annual meeting in May when Chris Kemp stepped up as the new chairman and a short while later Rebecca Knifton became the new clerk.
Several new councillors have also taken their place at the table including Maggie South, Joan Devine, Roger Hanauer, Rawden Rogerson and relatively new chairman of finance Alan Copus.
But it was born in a storm of controversy over the standard of the council’s governance and control procedures.
A damning internal auditor’s report was published which found standards were ‘woefully inadequate’ and recommended a series of improvements to bring the council into the 21st century.
And on Thursday night some furious councillors confronted the new chairman claiming those implicated were entitled to a right of reply.
Mr Kemp told them he wanted to ‘draw a line under this situation’ and move forward.
This includes a new playground at Hampers Green, revamping Rosemary Gardens play equipment, building a skate park, completing the neighbourhood plan, replacing street lights and setting up a youth council.
LONG STANDING district councillor for Petworth Janet Duncton who also served for many years on the town council, has sought an assurance those implicated in the controversial internal auditor’s report will get the right of reply.
And Tony Sneller told a full meeting on Thursday he believed those implicated should have had the right before the report was made public.
“I feel the briefing was over zealous and a lot of the process was ill considered. It could have been done in a far better way.”
He said the council had acted in an ‘over reactive’ way without taking account of the people involved: “Untold damage could be done by this sort of ineptitude.”
Chris Kemp said: “There is always a right of reply but nobody has approached me or any other councillors.”
The purpose of the report had been to have good governance and total transparency.
“We have now done this process,” he said. “We have to draw a line under this situation and move forward.”
Maggie South said ‘great harm’ could be done by revisiting the issue.
“I joined the council to look forward. We have had the audit and the piece in the newspaper, let’s park it and move forward.”
The town council looks set to double its precept to carry out its wish list of projects.
Although the final budget has not yet been agreed early discussions have taken the precept from £57,000 to £115,630.
Major items include £20,000 for the clerk’s salary from some £13,300 this year for the clerk and an assistant clerk’s wages.
£20,000 is currently earmarked for carrying out the neighbour plan and £2,000 has been added to the list in the event of the council having to finance an election next year.
The loan repayment for £50,000 for work in Rosemary’s Gardens and Hampers Green play equipment would be £6,000 a year over ten years.
In addition councillors are set to put £10,000 aside for the skate park.
Councillors were told the £50,000 long promised by Chichester District Council would not be enough to do a worthwhile project.
Another £2,000 is earmarked for the war memorial and £7,000 to build up a contingency fund. Chairman of the finance committee Alan Copus said the average tax payer in Petworth paid around £40 for the town council precept this year: “Doubling it takes it to about £80. We are talking about less than £1 a week.”
Mr Kemp told the meeting: “It’s going to be difficult to shave much off the budget.
“We have a lot of maintenance to do and we also need to move forward.”
“I think we have got to spend the money,” said John Robbins, “and if you look at this precept, it’s almost an insignificant amount added to the average council tax bill and for that £1 a week we can make a big difference to the appearance of our town for the benefit of the residents and the visitors.”
Full story in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer Thursday, December 4