Council compared to 'gentleman's club'

ONE of the country's wealthiest councils has been compared to a “gentleman's club” amid claims that vital information and documents are being withheld from some of its members.

Laurence Cawley

ONE of the country's wealthiest councils has been compared to a “gentleman's club” amid claims that vital information and documents are being withheld from some of its members.

The criticism of St Edmundsbury Borough Council was made after a number of councillors were not told that their HQ building in Angel Hill had been sold to developers until just a couple of hours before a major council meeting.

Leaders at St Edmundsbury Borough Council last night defended the way in which information was circulated amongst its elected representatives.


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But David Nettleton, leader of the opposition LLINK group, set up to campaign for a wider thoroughfare between the old Bury St Edmunds town centre and the new Arc shopping precinct, said: “It is just appalling that they've got this secrecy mentality. It is like a gentleman's club which accepts a few ladies.”

Speaking about the sale of the borough offices for �1.3million - �500,000 less than the original �1.8m guide price - Mr Nettleton said he only found out about it after a press release was sent to the media.

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Then, at a meeting of full council on Wednesday, he tried to get the office sale listed on the agenda.

“I did not manage to get it on the agenda which means we've not yet discussed it as councillors. We've not been involved in any part of it. This is a big issue.”

He also claimed he had not been sent confidential papers about the current financial situation surrounding the council's new HQ building West Suffolk House in Western Way, which the EADT revealed last week could cost about �900,000 more than originally planned.

“How can we discuss this if the members are not being sent the documents?”

Nigel Aitkens, cabinet member for economy and asset management, defended the council's dealings with its elected representatives, claiming although the circulation of confidential papers was limited, they were all welcome to request a copy. It was a system brought in, he said, to save on unnecessary printing costs and paper wastage - a move which had cross-party support at the time.

However he said the issue should perhaps be looked at again in light of Mr Nettleton's concerns.

“The decision to sell the borough offices is not a recent one,” said Mr Aitkens. “It was made a long time ago, as part of the programme to build and share new offices with Suffolk County Council.

“Given that approval has already been given, councillors do not need to do anything more, other than receive progress updates.

“As regards confidential papers, their availability is clearly communicated in the widely distributed public papers. But in order to preserve their confidentiality, we limit the number in circulation and ask that any councillor wanting to see them contacts Democratic Services for a copy."

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