Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Team aiming to make town best in the world branded a ‘secret club’

A GROUP set up to improve Henley has been accused by councillors of being “a secret

A GROUP set up to improve Henley has been accused by councillors of being “a secret club”.

The Henley Town Team was formed a year ago with the aim of improving the economic, social and cultural vitality of the town.

Its brief is to make Henley the “best town in the world to live, run a business, work, play and visit by 2030”.

The group has 27 members including directors of the Henley Business Partnership and representatives of companies including Invesco Perpetual, Brakspear and Hobbs of Henley.

It receives £20,000 in funding from Henley Town Council and £4,000 from South Oxfordshire District Council towards the economic development plan.

But it came under fire from members of the town council’s town and community committee at a meeting last week.

Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: “I see one glaring omission from the Town Team and that is your Mayor, regardless of it being me. What’s even more crazy is there is only one member representing Henley Town Council.

“The other major omission is someone from Henley Royal Regatta. I do not know who thought this list up but it certainly needs revising and looking at in more depth.”

Councillor Kellie Hinton said: “Town Team funding and financial affairs go through our books. The town clerk provides his time and our administrators are used. It’s not just £20,000 we contribute, it’s bigger than that. We’re accountable for it all.”

Councillor Sarah Miller said: “I think it’s a bit of a secret club. Councillor Sara Abey asked to sit in on one of the meetings and was told ‘no’.”

Cllr Abey said: “We should be involved in things we’re responsible for. It’s like an unofficial council. We should all be able to go. It’s bad  management.”

Cllr Hillier added: “You should never be excluded as a councillor. I’m going to take it up with [town clerk] Mike Kennedy.”

Other members of the Town Team include town centre manager Rachel Rae and Mr Kennedy while the district council is represented by Councillor Robert Simister, cabinet member for economic development, economic development manager Suzanne Malcolm and officer Helen Harvey.

Miss Rae told the committee that the Town Team was chaired by her predecessor Peter McConnell before he left in June and since then business advisor Simon Dunster had assumed the role.

She explained that she had not taken over the chair as she had not been in post long enough.

She said: “We want this to be a reflection of the business community.”

The committee agreed that the Cllr Hillier and Councillor Dylan Thomas would meet Miss Rae with a view to restructuring the group around the Mayor and also examine its constitution.

Cllr Hinton said the group should be “transparent”. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Kennedy said the group was supposed to be independent from the council.

He told the Henley Standard: “We have got a new council and some [members] might not be up to speed. There do seem to be some misgivings but members need to have regard for what Town Team is all about.

“It’s the movers and shakers, the chief executive of the River and Rowing Museum, the principal of Henley College, the chief executive of Brakspear, people from Invesco, the manager of Handelsbanken.

“They are having their say on what should go into the action plan for next year. Eventually they will have control of the spending.

“It was driven by the public sector but I am struggling to get the message across that it’s nothing to do with the council now. All members of the council can come to any town council meeting but the Town Team is not like that. Previously, council officers would shape the action plan for the town with a bit of help from members and that is the wrong way round.”

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