Maghull Town Council – Accounting (or not) for its commercial activities

I have been asking questions about his at Maghull Council meetings recently as indeed has Labour Councillor Steve Kermode, to give him his due.

Separately we seem to have come to a similar point of view i.e. the Council’s commercial activities (using parks & gardens staff to bid for work outside of the Council) are not at all well documented in the reports/accounts made available to members of the Council.

Over the past couple of years Maghull TC has been engaging in commercial activities via its Parks and Gardens Maintenance staff, by using them to bid for commercial contracts to bring in another source of income for the Council. This is perfectly in order in that the Council has the right to do this as a consequence of the Coalition Government’s Localism Act. However, the problem is the commercial activities are hardly well documented.

This means for example that councillors can’t hold the Council to account because we don’t have the information to know if the commercial activities are working as we would wish them to. For example here are a few questions that come to mind:-

* Who does the Council have contracts with?
* How many contracts has the Council bid for?
* What resources is the Council putting into the contracts it holds and to bidding for other contracts?
* What are the consequences of the Council’s staff being engaged in outside contracts? By this I mean what are the staff not doing in the parks and gardens because their attentions are elsewhere?
* What profit/loss has the Council made on its commercial activities?
* Why is the Council not accounting for and reporting on its commercial activities to Council members?
* Were the watering problems encountered by the Maghull in Bloom volunteers last Summer in Maghull Square impacted on by Council staff being engaged on commercial contracts?
* Do the Council’s trading activities damage other competing local enterprises/businesses?

A briefing paper, prepared for Parish and Town Council on this matter, that I have read says ‘If a council wishes to trade it must set up a company or co-operative society and abide by company law’, I have not seen this taking place.

This same briefing paper also advises that ‘The council must resolve at a meeting that it meets the criteria for eligibility relating to the electoral mandate and relevant training of the clerk. The resolution can be passed at any meeting of the council but a further resolution must be passed at every subsequent “relevant annual meeting” for the council to be able to continue to exercise the power’

I have asked the Council twice now to account for its commercial activities in the way prescribed by national advice and in a way that is clear for members of the Council. I hope the message has hit home with our Labour rulers.

I particularly like the idea of the Council setting up a mutual/co-operative society to run its commercial activities.