Bradford snubs call to help Keighley council

A DISTRICT council has rejected renewed calls for it help a neighbouring town council sort out its financial and governance problems highlighted last month in a critical audit report.

Campaigners have been calling on Bradford Council to intervene to make improvements at Keighley Town Council for over 18 months and Keighley MP Kris Hopkins has been urging the town council to ask for outside help.

Critics have pointed out that because Bradford collects the precept from taxpayers, which funds the town council, it ought to step in.

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Last month a public interest report by external auditors, which outlined a catalogue of poor decision making, prompted a police investigation into potentially unlawful actions.

It has now been revealed that Bradford Council refused to intervene in July 2013.

In a letter to Keighley campaigner Elizabeth Mitchell, Bradford Council cited the absence of a public interest report in Keighley - 16 months before one was issued.

The 2013 letter referred to Kirby Muxloe parish councillors in Leicester who were asked to resign by a district council leader over serious financial concerns.

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The letter from Bradford Council said the Kirby Muxloe parish councillors resigned voluntarily, adding: “I do no believe that the Keighley Town Councillors would be so accommodating in the absence of any public interest report.”

In a second letter in July 2013, the then Bradford Council chief executive, Tony Reeves, told Mrs Mitchell that he had asked Keighley Town Council if it was operating within its legal powers.

Mr Reeves said Keighley “have assured me that they do have the necessary powers to undertake their activities. I do not believe I can do any more than ask for that assurance.”

Mrs Mitchell has written again to Bradford to point out that a public interest report has now been issued although no-one on the town council has yet resigned, despite calls from Mr Hopkins and a 100-name petition.

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She wrote the letter several weeks ago and is awaiting a response. Mr Hopkins has asked the council to respond.

Mrs Mitchell, who helped expose wrongdoing at Keighley Town Council, was disappointed Bradford “have distanced themselves throughout this.”

“I am very disappointed in our local authority. They collect the precept from the ratepayer to pay over to Keighley Town Council, an organisation that may not be acting lawfully.

“Last month the auditors said the town council may not be acting lawfully - so much for the assurance given by the town council to Bradford in July 2013.

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“It seems that Keighley Town Council want to gloss over the audit report and Bradford are letting them get away with it. It’s a very sad day for democracy.”

Bradford Council leader David Green accepted there was “real concern” in Keighley about the town council but the city council’s ability to intervene was restricted as the town council is an “autonomous body”.

He added: “If Keighley Town Council want any assistance we would be happy to do what we can if they want to contact us.”

A Bradford Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the issues raised by Mrs Mitchell, unfortunately it is not within our legal powers to intervene in this matter.”

Councillor Javaid Akhtar, deputy Mayor of Keighley, said the town council now had staff in place to fulfil recommendations highlighted by auditors.