Town council accused of ‘waging war’ in Chamber of Commerce dispute

By Saul Cooke-Black   |   BBC local democracy reporter   |
Wednesday 23rd March 2022 10:13 am
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CHEPSTOW Town Council has been criticised after rejecting the findings of an independent investigation which accused the authority of “waging war” in a dispute with a chamber of commerce.

Town councillor, and former mayor, Cllr Paul Pavia has resigned from the organisation after the findings of a One Voice Wales report were rejected.

The report, commissioned by the town council, investigated a dispute between the town council and Chepstow Chamber of Commerce and Tourism dating back to 2018, when the chamber’s representation was removed because it was claimed that it “was no longer holding regular meetings”.

The chamber, like other voluntary bodies and charities, had traditionally been represented by a councillor at meetings where concerns of local businesses could be raised.

But it denied it was not holding regular meetings with the council, and questioned why its representation at meetings had been withdrawn.

A leaked copy of the independent report seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service says the chamber had sought to hold the council to account for what it saw as “an injustice”.

“The council’s reaction to this was one of resentment and defensiveness, rather than attempting to engage with the chamber through constructive and sincere dialogue for the benefit of the wider community,” it said.

The report says the council’s “failure to acknowledge its mistakes” led to the chamber making repeated requests for information and a breakdown in relations as it sought to “expose the injustice it felt”.

Councillor Paul Pavia (LDRS ) (LDRS)

It said: “Councillors and council employees must bear equal responsibility for their part in the breakdown in the relationship with the chamber.

“Rather than focusing on the commercial health of the town, time and effort has been expended on defending erroneous actions and ‘waging war’ with those who sought to hold the council to account.

“These events reflect adversely on the culture of the council.”

Chepstow Town Council declined to comment, but referred the Local Democracy Reporting Service to the minutes of an extraordinary meeting last month where the confidential report was considered.

The minutes say the report and its recommendations were rejected as the “draft report was flawed and had not been reviewed as intended”.

They also say the decision was made as the “the deliverables of the scoping document were not met” and “communications were inadequate”.

Several recommendations were agreed, including to set up a standards committee to meet annually and to focus on the “commercial health” of the town.

The council agreed to write to the chamber informing it of the decision, and to “express regret for the difficulties of the past”.

It also resolved to invite the chamber to present their vision for the town, with the aim that the two organisations can move forward together.

However Sue Kingdom, secretary of Chepstow Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said: “We find it incredulous that even now, with an independent investigation commissioned by the town council, and a consultant body also chosen by them, they refuse to accept the conclusions because they identified their shortcomings.

“We have bent over backwards for four years to co-operate over a matter that was their fault in the first instance.

“It’s time for a debate on how the town council is run and they should be put under a great deal more scrutiny.”

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