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Swaffham councillors agree to dissolve finance committee and give market traders greater representation

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Town councillors agreed to dissolve a finance committee after fears were expressed over the system being "undemocratic", while the market committee has also been restructured.

Ahead of Tuesday's Extraordinary Swaffham Town Council meeting, a letter was sent to the town clerk signed by five councillors which stated the finance committee should not be left in the domain of a "selected few".

It followed on from the committee's chairman Ian Pilcher proposing an embargo on any new and additional long term capital loans during last month's full council meeting, which was voted down with strong criticism from some in attendance.

Mayor of Swaffham Jill Skinner, pictured centre, had the deciding vote to dissolve the town council's finance committee after a split vote
Mayor of Swaffham Jill Skinner, pictured centre, had the deciding vote to dissolve the town council's finance committee after a split vote

Councillor Paul Darby, who signed the letter to the clerk, questioned the efficiency of the committee at the time, while councillor Lindsay Beech suggested Mr Pilcher was behaving like a "tinpot dictator" by enforcing a blanket ban on the right to vote on individual decisions.

Along with councillors Shirley Matthews, Wendy Bensley, Colin Houghton and Lindsay Beech, the letter of proposal by Mr Darby said: "The views of 13 councillors are of equal importance to the debate and must be heard; that is the basis of good governance and our finances are a fundamental contributor to the end.

"The present system denies us that right and my proposal seeks to address this by asking for our financial deliberations to take place by the whole council. It has worked in the past and there is no reason for it not to do so again."

Tuesday's vote was split with six councillors in favour and six against. Mayor Jill Skinner therefore had the deciding vote in favour of the proposal to dissolve the finance committee.

It was also agreed the market committee will revert to a market management committee which will let traders have more of a say. Events would also have working groups made up of councillors and other members of the public as required.

Swaffham Market on Saturday, October 24 2020. Picture: Paul Marsh
Swaffham Market on Saturday, October 24 2020. Picture: Paul Marsh

It was felt the market's auction is a "unique business" which is attached to the existing market committee, and cannot represent other traders.

Moreover, the proposal said it would be fair for nominations of a selection of candidates because the existing representation was just one trader with the auction couple.

The letter to the town clerk said: "It is incumbent upon us to allow them [traders and public] their democratic rights and thereby making the whole experience of shops, market traders and public a happy body."

Following the vote to dissolve the council's finance committee, a Facebook statement on the Swaffham Residents Forum page hit out at the decision.

It described the calling of the Extraordinary meeting as "hurried" and stated the committee had "operated effectively and economically for more than a year".

The statement continued: "This idea negated the hours of scrutiny, deliberation and delivery of the most recent budget and precept (Council Tax) contribution, that was recently accorded a clear endorsement by the Auditor's Report.

"The precept, contained without increase for 20/21, as well as with no increases for such as allotment nor property rents, was seemingly not valued sufficiently, by some councillors.

"Following on from some emotive, possibly politically motivated and partially inaccurate statements, a vote was called."

The budget and precept referred to in the statement was approved by town councillors during a full council meeting in January.

Town clerk Richard Bishop said he did not attend the extraordinary meeting, which was held in private, so felt it was inappropriate to comment on the decision.

Swaffham resident Stan Sole sent a letter to the mayor after the vote, which has been seen by the Lynn News.

Mr Sole suggested the decision was motivated by Conservative councillors and he stated "party politics should play no part in local government".

He added: "How can the finance committee be considered unrepresentative, which its dissolution infers, when there is more than half of the town council on this committee, and with members of more than one political persuasion?"

The make-up of the dissolved committee was made up of four Independent councillors, two Residents4Residents and one Conservative.

Mr Sole also argued the dissolved committee's chairman Mr Pilcher had a "wealth of experience in business".

The council will call an further extraordinary meeting later this month for more deliberation upon a series of specific questions.

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