Transparency Request relating to confusing public records, financial compliance and future budgetary provision..

Rupert Davis made this Freedom of Information request to Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire

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The request was partially successful.

Dear Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire,

It is requested for Stadhampton Parish Council (SPC) to be more transparent regarding the unregistered land, referred to as Allotment 13 (A13) on Copson Lane.

In various minutes dating backing to 2018 (minutes 105/18) SPC have stated and claimed to be the 'owners' of the unregistered land referred to as A13, yet in in other minutes they have asked former residents of Church Farm if they, instead, own the land. Then, in SPC minutes 108/19, SPC claim that they own the unregistered land under the principle of ‘better entitlement’ not ownership.

SPC has further stated (minutes 108/19) that they were pursuing legal action against the residence of Church Farm House due to ‘the current demand’ and waiting list for allotments. Yet later in September 2019 (minutes 171/19) SPC was prompted by a parishioner to admit that 5 allotments are vacant, but unable to be used by the 4 parishioners on a waiting list due to them not being maintained by SPC.

1. Can SPC clarify why it has referred to owning A13 yet has recorded consideration that others might instead be the owners?

2. If not owners, why has SPC used that term and not clarified their position more accurately?

3. If the owners, why did SPC choose to not pursue action as such, but instead opt for a lesser basis?

4. Can SPC confirm how many designated allotments were vacant in May 2019?

5. Can SPC explain why it has not maintained vacant allotments sufficient to allow use of these by Parishioners on a waiting list?

SPC’s confusion and contradiction regarding their ownership of the unregistered land on Copson Lane, their 2 failed attempts of registration with HM Land Registry and the pursuit of legal action against the residence of Church Farm House has led to significant costs for the Parish of Stadhampton. SPC records it had spent a total of £3,466.00, in connection with the 2 [failed] applications made to the Land Registry [regarding land on Copson Lane] during the period Oct 2017 to Dec 2018. Subsequent to this SPC records suggest a further £10,000 has been spent.

6. Can SPC confirm the total expenditure on ‘Legal & Professional’ and Land Registration costs in relation to the ‘land on Copson Lane’ referred to as Allotment 13, from 01 January 2017 to date?

7. The published FY19/20 schedule of payments does not record the costs for legal services Oct 19 – Jan 2020. Can SPC explain why this in year cost has been omitted?

8. Can SPC evidence 3 quotes or estimates for costs relating to its FY 19/20 ‘Legal & professional’ expenditure to comply with either section 10.3 or sections 11.1.d of its Financial Regulations?

9. If unable to, can SPC confirm and provide public record, prior to the date of first engagement of such ‘Legal & professional’ services that accords with Section 16.2 of its Financial Regulations?

In May 2019 (minutes 108/19) SPC records estimates of up to £50,000 for continued court action against the residents of Church Farm House. However, the recently approved SPC budget in Jan 2020, only records an estimate of £5,000 for legal fees/services. This is £45,000 less than SPC’s own recorded estimate for costs relating to continued legal action which SPC have not accounted for. This £45,000 variance suggests that the SPC has plans to raise £22.5K to balance its books at year end or it has contingency to cancel all the community projects planned for 2020 in order to prevent bankruptcy.

10. Can SPC confirm the Budget forecast for ‘Legal & professional’ expenses in FY20/21 as £5,000 is correct?

11. Can SPC present evidence of where it has made budgetary provision within FY 20/21 for its recorded estimates of continued costs of up to £50,000?

12. If yes, where is this provision recorded?

13. If no, why has SPC omitted this significant liability?

14. Without provision for £50,000 in the FY20/21 budget, how is SPC planning to fund any court action?

Yours faithfully,

Mr R Davis

Michael Pawley, Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire

1 Attachment

Please see attached a letter in response to the request below

Michael Pawley
Clerk & RFO
Stadhampton Parish Council
Nelhurst Cottage
Copson Lane
Stadhampton
Oxford OX44 7TZ

Tel: 01865 400857 [mobile number]

On 11/03/2020, 16:10, "Rupert Davis" <[FOI #654333 email]> wrote:

Dear Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire,

It is requested for Stadhampton Parish Council (SPC) to be more transparent regarding the unregistered land, referred to as Allotment 13 (A13) on Copson Lane.

In various minutes dating backing to 2018 (minutes 105/18) SPC have stated and claimed to be the 'owners' of the unregistered land referred to as A13, yet in in other minutes they have asked former residents of Church Farm if they, instead, own the land. Then, in SPC minutes 108/19, SPC claim that they own the unregistered land under the principle of ‘better entitlement’ not ownership.

SPC has further stated (minutes 108/19) that they were pursuing legal action against the residence of Church Farm House due to ‘the current demand’ and waiting list for allotments. Yet later in September 2019 (minutes 171/19) SPC was prompted by a parishioner to admit that 5 allotments are vacant, but unable to be used by the 4 parishioners on a waiting list due to them not being maintained by SPC.

1. Can SPC clarify why it has referred to owning A13 yet has recorded consideration that others might instead be the owners?

2. If not owners, why has SPC used that term and not clarified their position more accurately?

3. If the owners, why did SPC choose to not pursue action as such, but instead opt for a lesser basis?

4. Can SPC confirm how many designated allotments were vacant in May 2019?

5. Can SPC explain why it has not maintained vacant allotments sufficient to allow use of these by Parishioners on a waiting list?

SPC’s confusion and contradiction regarding their ownership of the unregistered land on Copson Lane, their 2 failed attempts of registration with HM Land Registry and the pursuit of legal action against the residence of Church Farm House has led to significant costs for the Parish of Stadhampton. SPC records it had spent a total of £3,466.00, in connection with the 2 [failed] applications made to the Land Registry [regarding land on Copson Lane] during the period Oct 2017 to Dec 2018. Subsequent to this SPC records suggest a further £10,000 has been spent.

6. Can SPC confirm the total expenditure on ‘Legal & Professional’ and Land Registration costs in relation to the ‘land on Copson Lane’ referred to as Allotment 13, from 01 January 2017 to date?

7. The published FY19/20 schedule of payments does not record the costs for legal services Oct 19 – Jan 2020. Can SPC explain why this in year cost has been omitted?

8. Can SPC evidence 3 quotes or estimates for costs relating to its FY 19/20 ‘Legal & professional’ expenditure to comply with either section 10.3 or sections 11.1.d of its Financial Regulations?

9. If unable to, can SPC confirm and provide public record, prior to the date of first engagement of such ‘Legal & professional’ services that accords with Section 16.2 of its Financial Regulations?

In May 2019 (minutes 108/19) SPC records estimates of up to £50,000 for continued court action against the residents of Church Farm House. However, the recently approved SPC budget in Jan 2020, only records an estimate of £5,000 for legal fees/services. This is £45,000 less than SPC’s own recorded estimate for costs relating to continued legal action which SPC have not accounted for. This £45,000 variance suggests that the SPC has plans to raise £22.5K to balance its books at year end or it has contingency to cancel all the community projects planned for 2020 in order to prevent bankruptcy.

10. Can SPC confirm the Budget forecast for ‘Legal & professional’ expenses in FY20/21 as £5,000 is correct?

11. Can SPC present evidence of where it has made budgetary provision within FY 20/21 for its recorded estimates of continued costs of up to £50,000?

12. If yes, where is this provision recorded?

13. If no, why has SPC omitted this significant liability?

14. Without provision for £50,000 in the FY20/21 budget, how is SPC planning to fund any court action?

Yours faithfully,

Mr R Davis

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Clerk & RFO, Stadhampton Parish Council, Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Davis
Please see attached the Council's  response to the above request
Yours sincerely
Michael Pawley
Clerk & RFO
Stadhampton Parish Council
Nelhurst Cottage
Copson Lane
Stadhampton
Oxford  OX44 7TZ
Tel: 01865 400857  [mobile number]

show quoted sections

Dear Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire's handling of my FOI request 'Transparency Request relating to confusing public records, financial compliance and future budgetary provision', dated 11 March 2020.

I request an internal review of the responce provided by Stadhampton Parish Council (SPC) on 07 April 2020, as this responce failed to adequately provide answers to, or transparency regarding reasonable aspects of non-prejudicial facts pertaining to SPC records.

It would appear that the responce by SPC seeks to avoid clarity on matters raised in the request, little, if any of which are prejudicial to legal matters initiated by SPC itself - transparency would only be prejudicial if the initial basis claimed by SPC is false.

Specifically, it would appear from fragmented records that SPC has, since early 2018, spent at £12,524 on legal and professional fees regarding unregistered land on Copson Lane, in which time SPC have twice failed to secure registration and had its application for injunction, subject to a Stay of Proceedings, by the Court. Put simply, SPC have nothing to show for this time and expenditure.

Whilst a S21 exemption might be reasonable, this begs questions on transparency. Without a unified total expenditure, made clear in either your responce or minutes, the public would have difficulty in understanding the cost vs benefit and public interest test, regarding SPCs expenditures and pursuit of continued action.

On matters of financial conduct, specifically questions 8 & 9, if, as stated in the responce, SPC does not hold the information requested, then, by virtue of this admission, SPC would be considered in breach of the regulatory sections referred to in the initial request. Put simply, SPC has not applied its own regulations or codes of conduct and practice in pursuit of expenditures, above explicit levels, relating to land it does not own.

SPCs application of Section 42 of the FOIA brings into scrutiny how appropriately SPC has balanced public versus 'other' interests. If the SPC basis for claim and thus case is as strong as SPC minutes record it as being, publication of this basis and the facts and evidence behind them could only strengthen a claim, hence it is a shame SPC appear to favour secrecy over transparency. Put simply, having spent over 2 years and a sum equivalent to 86% of SPCs annual public precept (income) on unregistered land not in SPCs ownership, it is reasonable to seek far greater levels of disclosure and transparency. This is all the more justified when SPC have nothing to currently show for this time and cost and are now themselves subjects of a tribunal relating to this action.

It is therefore requested that the responce is reviewed and amended as a matter of urgency to fulfil SPCs public duty, on matters as significant as to represent, in expenditure terms, 86% of its annual public income; actions which still present a current and future financial risk to SPC in the region of £ 50,000, little if any of which has been made as clear as this to Parishioners, by SPC.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Yours faithfully,

Rupert Davis

Michael Pawley, Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire

1 Attachment

Please find attached an acknowledgement of your request

Michael Pawley
Clerk & RFO
Stadhampton Parish Council
Nelhurst Cottage
Copson Lane
Stadhampton
Oxford OX44 7TZ

Tel: 01865 400857 [mobile number]

On 17/04/2020, 15:01, "Rupert Davis" <[FOI #654333 email]> wrote:

Dear Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire's handling of my FOI request 'Transparency Request relating to confusing public records, financial compliance and future budgetary provision', dated 11 March 2020.

I request an internal review of the responce provided by Stadhampton Parish Council (SPC) on 07 April 2020, as this responce failed to adequately provide answers to, or transparency regarding reasonable aspects of non-prejudicial facts pertaining to SPC records.

It would appear that the responce by SPC seeks to avoid clarity on matters raised in the request, little, if any of which are prejudicial to legal matters initiated by SPC itself - transparency would only be prejudicial if the initial basis claimed by SPC is false.

Specifically, it would appear from fragmented records that SPC has, since early 2018, spent at £12,524 on legal and professional fees regarding unregistered land on Copson Lane, in which time SPC have twice failed to secure registration and had its application for injunction, subject to a Stay of Proceedings, by the Court. Put simply, SPC have nothing to show for this time and expenditure.

Whilst a S21 exemption might be reasonable, this begs questions on transparency. Without a unified total expenditure, made clear in either your responce or minutes, the public would have difficulty in understanding the cost vs benefit and public interest test, regarding SPCs expenditures and pursuit of continued action.

On matters of financial conduct, specifically questions 8 & 9, if, as stated in the responce, SPC does not hold the information requested, then, by virtue of this admission, SPC would be considered in breach of the regulatory sections referred to in the initial request. Put simply, SPC has not applied its own regulations or codes of conduct and practice in pursuit of expenditures, above explicit levels, relating to land it does not own.

SPCs application of Section 42 of the FOIA brings into scrutiny how appropriately SPC has balanced public versus 'other' interests. If the SPC basis for claim and thus case is as strong as SPC minutes record it as being, publication of this basis and the facts and evidence behind them could only strengthen a claim, hence it is a shame SPC appear to favour secrecy over transparency. Put simply, having spent over 2 years and a sum equivalent to 86% of SPCs annual public precept (income) on unregistered land not in SPCs ownership, it is reasonable to seek far greater levels of disclosure and transparency. This is all the more justified when SPC have nothing to currently show for this time and cost and are now themselves subjects of a tribunal relating to this action.

It is therefore requested that the responce is reviewed and amended as a matter of urgency to fulfil SPCs public duty, on matters as significant as to represent, in expenditure terms, 86% of its annual public income; actions which still present a current and future financial risk to SPC in the region of £ 50,000, little if any of which has been made as clear as this to Parishioners, by SPC.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Yours faithfully,

Rupert Davis

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Please use this email address for all replies to this request:
[FOI #654333 email]

Disclaimer: This message and any reply that you make will be published on the internet. Our privacy and copyright policies:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/offi...

For more detailed guidance on safely disclosing information, read the latest advice from the ICO:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/ico-...

Please note that in some cases publication of requests and responses will be delayed.

If you find this service useful as an FOI officer, please ask your web manager to link to us from your organisation's FOI page.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Michael Pawley, Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire

1 Attachment

Please see attached a letter in response to your request for a review of the Council's handling of your original request dated 11 March 2020

Michael Pawley
Clerk & RFO
Stadhampton Parish Council
Nelhurst Cottage
Copson Lane
Stadhampton
Oxford OX44 7TZ

Tel: 01865 400857 [mobile number]

On 17/04/2020, 15:01, "Rupert Davis" <[FOI #654333 email]> wrote:

Dear Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Stadhampton Parish Council, Oxfordshire's handling of my FOI request 'Transparency Request relating to confusing public records, financial compliance and future budgetary provision', dated 11 March 2020.

I request an internal review of the responce provided by Stadhampton Parish Council (SPC) on 07 April 2020, as this responce failed to adequately provide answers to, or transparency regarding reasonable aspects of non-prejudicial facts pertaining to SPC records.

It would appear that the responce by SPC seeks to avoid clarity on matters raised in the request, little, if any of which are prejudicial to legal matters initiated by SPC itself - transparency would only be prejudicial if the initial basis claimed by SPC is false.

Specifically, it would appear from fragmented records that SPC has, since early 2018, spent at £12,524 on legal and professional fees regarding unregistered land on Copson Lane, in which time SPC have twice failed to secure registration and had its application for injunction, subject to a Stay of Proceedings, by the Court. Put simply, SPC have nothing to show for this time and expenditure.

Whilst a S21 exemption might be reasonable, this begs questions on transparency. Without a unified total expenditure, made clear in either your responce or minutes, the public would have difficulty in understanding the cost vs benefit and public interest test, regarding SPCs expenditures and pursuit of continued action.

On matters of financial conduct, specifically questions 8 & 9, if, as stated in the responce, SPC does not hold the information requested, then, by virtue of this admission, SPC would be considered in breach of the regulatory sections referred to in the initial request. Put simply, SPC has not applied its own regulations or codes of conduct and practice in pursuit of expenditures, above explicit levels, relating to land it does not own.

SPCs application of Section 42 of the FOIA brings into scrutiny how appropriately SPC has balanced public versus 'other' interests. If the SPC basis for claim and thus case is as strong as SPC minutes record it as being, publication of this basis and the facts and evidence behind them could only strengthen a claim, hence it is a shame SPC appear to favour secrecy over transparency. Put simply, having spent over 2 years and a sum equivalent to 86% of SPCs annual public precept (income) on unregistered land not in SPCs ownership, it is reasonable to seek far greater levels of disclosure and transparency. This is all the more justified when SPC have nothing to currently show for this time and cost and are now themselves subjects of a tribunal relating to this action.

It is therefore requested that the responce is reviewed and amended as a matter of urgency to fulfil SPCs public duty, on matters as significant as to represent, in expenditure terms, 86% of its annual public income; actions which still present a current and future financial risk to SPC in the region of £ 50,000, little if any of which has been made as clear as this to Parishioners, by SPC.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Yours faithfully,

Rupert Davis

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Please use this email address for all replies to this request:
[FOI #654333 email]

Disclaimer: This message and any reply that you make will be published on the internet. Our privacy and copyright policies:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/offi...

For more detailed guidance on safely disclosing information, read the latest advice from the ICO:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/ico-...

Please note that in some cases publication of requests and responses will be delayed.

If you find this service useful as an FOI officer, please ask your web manager to link to us from your organisation's FOI page.

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