As reported previously, for the last few years, the council has agreed to provide £45,000 to the Hubbards Hills Trust from the annual budget. This had risen from £35,000 per year in 2017/18, following a rise in maintenance costs.
However, some councillors questioned whether this should continue to be the case, after it was revealed that the Trust has reserves of almost £137,000 (as of March 2019) and has an average annual expenditure of around £27,000.
At the council’s governance and finance committee meeting last week, Councillor Alex Cox brought forward a proposal which would have compelled the trust to provide the council with ‘full, detailed, income/expenditure reports’ and ‘full, detailed future expenditure plans’, with all future contributions to be subject to ‘full evidence, costings and timescales’ and accumulated reserves being taken into consideration.
Coun Cox’s proposal stated that the trust should ensure that any unspent reserves received from Louth Town Council would be returned to the council if the trust were to be dissolved in the future.
The item was discussed for over an hour at the meeting, but Coun Cox’s proposal did not go to a vote as, according to the town clerk, councillors were generally ‘satisfied’ by the accounts that the trust produced, and would be further satisfied by a list of jobs and expenditure that can be foreseen – while appreciating that some works cannot be foreseen, such as in the case of flooding or vandalism.
With regards to the section about returning funds in the case of dissolution, councillors were told that the Charity Commission sets out such procedures, and any change to this process would require further advice to be sought.
Ultimately, there was a vote in which Hubbards Hills Trust chairman, Coun Andrew Leonard, agreed to bring forward a ‘shopping list’ of foreseeable jobs and expenditure to the council at the next opportunity.
Following the meeting, Coun Cox said he had been ‘very disappointed’ that his motion wasn’t taken to a vote, and referred to the ‘shopping list’ as a hollow compromise – but still better than nothing.
Coun Cox said: “I would like openness and transparency on Louth Town Council, which is fast becoming the chamber of secrets.
“This is the public purse; it’s time to get a grip.”
Coun Leonard later told the Louth Leader: “Hubbard’s Hills trustees are currently working on restoration projects at the site which the public will be able to benefit from in the forthcoming months and years ahead. The trustees like to get on and do things, as they have for the past 11 years.
“This is far more beneficial to the residents of this town, instead of responding to someone who seems to be a sore loser.
“His agenda item did not even receive a seconder for his proposal, let alone a vote.
“There were 20 councillors in the room that night. Nineteen realised at that point that something was fundamentally wrong. Obviously, Councillor Cox did not.
“If only he would ask the trust about his concerns instead of just putting things on an agenda, and therefore wasting council time.
“Anyone in the town can ask me about the Hills and they regularly do. We as a trust have nothing to hide.
“Therefore, he presses forward with his one-man mission to try and discredit me, the trust, and now it would seem, Louth Town Council.”
Coun Leonard added: “I assume it will only be a matter of time until he resigns as a councillor for bringing the town council into disrepute.
“Obviously in his own little ‘chamber of secrets’, he knows what he is doing.”
Coun Cox disputed the claim that his motion had no support, and stated that seven fellow councillors had vocally supported his motion.
Coun Cox concluded: “I will not be resigning, I will continue to hold Hubbard’s Hills Trust and the town council to account.
“I have no problem with the trust, but public money needs to be accounted for.”