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MCAP chair resigns, due to ‘culture of deceit’ at Wiltshire Council

THE chair of Melksham Community Area Partnership (MCAP) has resigned and criticised Wiltshire Council saying they constantly “lied, misled and tried to impose their own agenda” on the public. 

Chris Holden left his voluntary post of several years after he became frustrated with the treatment from Wiltshire Council towards the public and MCAP.

In a letter to the Melksham News the former chair says how Wiltshire Council’s Melksham Area Board is trying to control MCAP by reducing their funding by 80%, leaving only enough to cover administrative costs. In this way, he says they are limiting resistance to any proposals Wiltshire Council want to implement.

Furthermore, he says that Wiltshire Council set up public consultations with no intention of listening to what the public say including the proposals on the Melksham Community Campus development.

And he claims that he has been banned from talking at public meetings or providing evidence which may sway the public away from Wiltshire Council’s agenda or preferred option.

In a damning letter, Chris Holden says, “I’ve been volunteering in the area for thirteen years now, and during that time I’ve worked on a number of projects with Wiltshire Council. It may be that I’ve been unfortunate in the projects I’ve been involved with, but I cannot think of a single project where council officers have not lied, misled, tried to impose their own agenda or broken their promises. It’s disheartening.”

Explaining his decision, he added, “I resigned in response to the area board’s declared intention to control the Community Area Partnership,” said Chris. “I was informed that the funding would be reduced by 80%, covering only administrative costs. Having attempted to work with the least supportive of all the area boards for some years, I was told that it was in order to control the partnership.

“Firstly, Community Area Partnerships (CAPs), are, according to Wiltshire’s Community Area Partnership Agreement ‘independent and autonomous’, which means that they should not be controlled by the board.

“Secondly, Wiltshire’s rules regarding community area boards states that they should not ‘contradict any policy set by the council.’  As Pat Aves, one of new the board members, attempted to point out at a meeting, controlling the Partnership goes against Wiltshire’s stated priority of empowering the community.

“Most importantly however, the board have shown that they are prepared to go to great lengths to put the interests of Wiltshire Council above those of the community.”

One issue that Chris Holden says frustrated him was a proposal at one stage for Melksham Library to be located outside the town. His research showed that local schools wanted the library to remain and that libraries tend to struggle when housed away from a town centre. However, Chris Holden says that when he tried to provide this information in public, he was banned

He explained, “Having given the board the independent evidence and the views of the primary schools, I was somewhat surprised at their response. Following a proposal from Jonathan Seed, they decided ‘without dissent’ that I should be banned from presenting the results of the consultation, or the evidence I had collated, at any public meetings.

“The board stated that if any questions were asked about the library move, then they would ignore them and the results of consultation;  Wiltshire Council also refused to attend any public meetings or answer any questions until after the decision was made. The Museum & Library Authority called the prevention of consultation on the library ‘a gross breach of the Libraries Act’ by the board.

“Having apparently conspired with Wiltshire Council officers to break the law in order to impose Wiltshire’s own agenda, to the known economic, social and educational detriment of the community; Jonathon Seed has since been appointed by the leader of Wiltshire Council as Cabinet member for libraries and campuses. One can therefore presume that there will be no repetition of this behaviour, as he is no doubt now well-versed in the legal obligations entailed in library decisions, and the negative impacts of moving a library out of town.

“Given that the partnership is an independent and autonomous body, this was entirely inappropriate, and suggested to me that there was a hidden agenda.”

The former MCAP chair also claims there is a culture of deceit at Wiltshire Council, which he says was evident when Wiltshire Council said originally that Melksham’s new campus would have to be built outside the town.

He said, “I think that both the board and Wiltshire Council missed a real opportunity to engage the public, to show the promised openness and accountability, and to work in true partnership with the community.

“Wiltshire Council stated in their assessment that a town centre site was hypothetical, and that none could be found. This was deliberately misleading, as Wiltshire Council never actually looked for a town centre location.

“When I was informed of this, I challenged council officers, and was informed that they were not legally bound to adhere to their own sustainability report, despite the fact that this was a sustainability project.

“It would appear that despite promises of openness and accountability, there remains a culture of deceit at Wiltshire Council, which is entirely incompatible with working in partnership with the community. The fact that the leadership of the community area board has been a party to that deceit is extremely disappointing.”

Melksham Without Parish Councillor, Alan Baines also thinks the community has been mistreated. He said, “The way in which the case for Woolmore Farm was presented is  dishonest and a disgraceful way for Wiltshire Council and the Area Board to treat the community. Other options were discounted on the basis of this dishonesty. The people of the Melksham area can only give their true views in a consultation if presented with facts, not spin.”

In response to Chris Holden’s accusations, a statement from Jon Hubbard, chairman of Melksham Area Board and Jonathon Seed, vice-chairman of Melksham Area Board said, “It is unfortunate that Chris Holden feels this way and was unable to work with us and the other Melksham Area Board members.  After much debate earlier in the year, we made this funding decision to help ensure any money spent on community-led projects was going to fully benefit our community.

“We firmly believe the board chose the right option and we have seen many projects delivered successfully over the last six months.

“Wiltshire Council funding rules are very clear that it is for each community area to choose how much funding is passed on to community area partnerships and there are a variety of different models used across the  county. It is important to note that funding has never been an automatic entitlement.

“Melksham Area Board has to operate under these funding rules whether or not any individuals agree with them or not.

“There is now a strong and positive relationship between Melksham CAP and the area board and we hope that this will continue to grow and develop in the coming years.”