Keighley investigation: Councillor gets bill for bench in memory of her daughter

Councillor Andrea Walker was told funds would be raised to pay for a bench named after her daughter, but Keighley Town Council is now pursuing her for �800. Picture by Tony Johnson
Councillor Andrea Walker was told funds would be raised to pay for a bench named after her daughter, but Keighley Town Council is now pursuing her for �800. Picture by Tony Johnson
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QUESTIONS are being about a council decision to pay for a £700 bench in memory of a councillor’s daughter and then pursue her for repayments a year later.

The bench was placed in the town hall square in memory of Ellie Walker, who died in January 2013 from blood poisoning at the age of three.

Councillor Andrea Walker, who has been on the authority for 11 years, says that she believed she wouldn’t have to pay for the bench and is angry and upset at being told to pay up.

She has admitted that she cannot remember exactly what was said at the time because she was very low and on anti-depressant drugs.

The bench was put up last year but just a few weeks ago Councillor Walker received a letter from Councillor Graham Mitchell, the council chairman, inquiring about discussing repayments.

Coun Mitchell suggested that until the matter is resolved, it might be better for Councillor Walker not to attend finance and audit committee meetings “or at least any portion of a meeting which might have to discuss this matter.”

He added: “Please understand that this is not an instruction from me. This is only a suggestion from me as Chair of the Council and the decision as to whether you attend or not must be entirely yours.”

Coun Mitchell told Coun Walker that “our many critics, especially those on Facebook, could cause you considerable embarrassment if they felt you were participating in discussions in the Finance and Audit Committee, about your personal financial circumstances.

“I am sure that you understand that we all have to take extra care regarding our interests at this difficult time.”

Councillor Walker said the letter was an “insult to my dead daughter”.

She said the council had previously paid for benches in memory of councillors and she believed a “verbal agreement” had been made that her bench would be sponsored or paid out of council funds.

She has not received any paperwork other than the letter and a ‘Sales Statement,’ received last week, which said “Please return remittance slip. Total due £703.”

Senior councillors have admitted the story of the bench is “puzzling” and “bizarre”.

One councillor who is familiar with the background said he believed there had been a “verbal agreement” to provide a “loan” which would be repaid.

He claimed Councillor Walker had already repaid some of the money. She has denied paying anything.

The senior councillor, who asked not to be named, said he had opposed providing a bench free of charge because “it would set a precedent - if we put a bench for one, we would have to do it for everybody.”

He said moves were being made by colleagues to have the debt “written off” but he would be opposing this.

“I think that she should pay it back. I will be voting against writing the debt off. It’s a bizarre story, I find it puzzling.”

A council meeting on Thursday saw a decision to write off the £703 debt diferred.

A finance committee has already voted that it should not be pursued.

I don’t believe it’s criminal says new clerk

THE new clerk at Keighley Town Council, Tom Ferry, says he does not believe there is criminality within the council.

Mr Ferry, who has previously served in the Royal Corps of Signals, said he had been following the activities of the council for some time and “I know from this that the job in hand at KTC is not for the faint-hearted.”

In a statement, he said: “There has been a lot of talk in the Press about criminal acts relating to the council. Let me tell you, if I thought there was a remote chance of criminality within the council then I would not be here today.”

He said the council had rightly apologised to the people of Keighley for “falling short of the standards they should expect”.

The process to rectify areas in the public interest audit report has already started, he said. An action plan would be prepared and action carried out early next year.

“The Council’s internal audit work does not stop at the report. It commissioned its internal auditor earlier this year, who is completely independent of the council. The auditor has completed his report and highlighted areas for improvement. These areas of improvement will avoid future risks to Council business and provide assurance to the public.”

He said one of his first tasks would be to ask the council to resolve that it meets the eligibility criteria to use the ‘general power of competence’ which will allow it to use the power in the interests of the community.

“Had the council been in a position to use this power when setting up the civic centre. The word ‘unlawfulness’ would not have been so prominent in the (public interest) report.”

Mr Ferry asked for the council to be given the opportunity to make the changes and that councillors and officers “are not distracted as has been the case in the last two years.”

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