Lib Dem Councillor Jim Pilling has warned that the Council has taken a dangerous step away from accountability after a Council meeting voted not to publish in full an audit of the Council’s financial activities in 2018/19.
Earlier this year, Councillor Pilling won the right for a further external audit of Morecambe Town Council’s financial activities from April 2018. This was after it came to light the Morecambe Bay Independent (MBI) Group’s leadership has signed a cheque in March 2019 for £6,200 to Morecambe BID without full Council approval. Since May 2019, the MBI Group have presided over a shambolic administration, with nine of their 21 Councillors resigning from the MBI Group and subsequently a former MBI town councillor resigning her seat.
The external audit which examined the alleged financial impropriety was presented to Morecambe Town Councillors in late August. When asked whether this report should be published, the author of the report indicated that they saw no reason why it should not be in the public domain. Councillor Pilling agreed that he thought it essential the public be told what the Town Council had done with their money.
The last item on September’s full Council meeting was whether to publish the report. After dragging on for several hours, at 22:00 the Press and Public were excluded from the meeting. They were not readmitted for the final hour and a half which included the vote on publishing the audit. Behind closed doors, the Morecambe Town Council voted against the publication of the report in full for the public. Only Councillor Pilling voting for the public to know the full truth about what the Council has done with taxpayers’ money.
The motion passed means that the report will not be published before October. Meanwhile the Town Clerk will undertake an investigation to clarify yet undefined issues. The Clerk, at a later date, will then produce a document for publication with a heavily redacted report. Councillor Pilling, the lone dissenting voice, was dissatisfied with the lack of necessary transparency on how Morecambe Town Council spends the public’s money.
Councillor Pilling said, “It is regrettable that so many Councillors chose to either vote against the publication or abstain on the motion. As the public’s representatives we are entrusted to look after the taxpayers’ money, the public have the right to know the full story.”
He continues, “In my eyes this is symptomatic of the gross failures of Morecambe Town Council and its MBI leadership. The MBIs have slashed festival funding, lost the confidence of nine of their own Town Councillors and been implicated in worrying financial impropriety. I fail to see how they have Morecambe’s best interests at heart. As far as I am concerned the future of Morecambe Town Council is unclear, but I will continue to do my best for the whole of Morecambe, ensuring the Town Council becomes an open, transparent and trustworthy institution.”