SIDLESHAM Parish Council meeting on July 15 broke up in confusion because it was revealed that none of the five new councillors, not even the new chairwoman Diana Pound, had made proper returns of their election expenses; a serious breach of election rules.
The Returning Officer’s Register showed that they had all returned their expenses as ‘NIL’.
During their campaign, apparently orchestrated by Diana Pound (then secretary of the Sidlesham Community Association), they had distributed to every house a coloured leaflet and, in an election email circulated by her with copy of the leaflet, they had all been described and promoted as members of the SCA.
I had been asking for weeks how much the leaflet cost but no-one would tell me, so at the public council meeting I asked chairwoman Pound to tell me there and then.
At first she said that electioneering matters were not council business and refused to take questions about the election.
I repeated the question, explaining that it affected the rights of all five to sit as councillors and she then disclosed that the printer’s bill for the leaflet had been £106.
She admitted she had paid it, thus it was her election expense, but it was not clear whether others had reimbursed her; even if they hadn’t she had paid it on their behalf and so they should all have declared their contributions.
The rules of the Electoral Commission state that candidates who fail to make returns of their expenses are entitled neither to take their seats on the council nor to vote, and that if they did so they could be fined £50 a day. Thus chairwoman Pound had no more right to chair the meeting than I had.
Even then the chairwoman tried to stick it out but capitulated after district councillor Tricia Tull explained the rules about election expenses and others present were of the opinion that as the five had breached the rules covering election expenses they could neither sit nor vote at this meeting.
The five could have vacated the council table and sat with the public but, having been compelled to acknowledge their breach and now aware of the penalties, they filed out of the Church Hall.
At 15 minutes it must have been the shortest parish council meeting ever recorded.
The four remaining councillors, who had made proper returns, Harland, Bedford, Ranjbar and Monnington, very fairly decided to sit as the planning committee and to defer all other council business.
This episode does not inspire confidence in the promise of ‘transparency and openness in local matters’, ironically trumpeted by the very leaflet that gave rise to the false returns.