Published: August 8, 2012
Heated council debate held over new Burnham Town Manager role

Councillors exchanged verbal blows during a town council meeting this week over controversial plans to introduce a new Town Centre Manager in Burnham-On-Sea.

There were heated scenes in the council chambers on Monday evening (August 6th) during a debate on plans to spend some of Tesco's £300,000 of community funding on creating the new role.

Appointing a new Town Centre Manager is among a list of 20 suggested improvements from Burnham's Town Team to help boost the vitality of the town centre.

It was agreed by the council's Town Improvements Committee in July that the appointment of a Town Centre Manager on a three-year contract should be considered a priority since the person would be able to take forward the other 19 recommendations on the list.

It was also noted that the Town Council would have to seek Sedgemoor District Council's approval for the cash to be spent in this way.

However, it emerged during Monday's meeting that BIARS (Burnham Information and Rescue Support), the community group that runs the town's tourist information centre, has made its own separate approach to Sedgemoor for funding for the role, prompting accusations that it was 'stealing a march' on the council.

Cllr Phil Harvey, Liberal Democrat leader on the Town Council, told the meeting: "This has come as a shock. I am very concerned that Sedgemoor should be having these discussions and find the talks disrepectful to this council."

But Cllr Neville Jones hit back at Liberal Democrat councillors, saying: "Prevarication again. For three years we've known the Tesco money has been coming our way, yet nothing has been done by the members opposite. No recommendations have been forthcoming. BIARS is the only show in town that can take on the responsibility of the Town Centre Manager."

He added: "The Town Council cannot consider employing new staff for such a role - it would absolutely run against everything the coalition government has been doing, yet BIARS has the confidence of businesses and the town itself to take this forward."

Cllr Helen Groves - who left the meeting during the debate - questioned whether the Tesco funding should be spent on such a role and queried whether the suggested £10,000 salary is enough to fulfill the job's objectives. "Whether this should happen with Tesco funding I'm unsure," she said.

Alex Turco from Burnham's Town Team added: "I am not familiar with the discussions between Sedgemoor and BIARS and cannot comment on whether the Town Team's vision of a Town Centre Manager is any way reflected by what BIARS want to do. However, I would question whether BIARS' conduct has been appropriate."

After a narrow vote of eight votes to seven, town councillors voted to return the matter back to the council's Town Improvements Committee for fresh consideration.

Cllr Phil Harvey told Burnham-On-Sea.com after the meeting: "Earlier in the year, Sedgemoor District Council asked the Town Council to advise it on how the Tesco funding could be spent and, as a result, the Town Team was invited to give its suggestions. One of its proposals was to introduce a new Town Manager to take forward a number of improvements in the town centre, which we felt to be a good idea. Now, however, it has emerged that Sedgemoor and BIARS have been in negotiations to take forward the role without any reference or notification to the Town Council or Town Team."

And Alex Turco from Burnham Town Team added: "We are unhappy that BIARS did not approach the Town Team about these discussions."

Mayor Ken Smout - who is also a member of BIARS - added: "The town council and members of the public want to make the town centre vibrant again and one way to do this is to appoint a new business and tourism officer. An approach has therefore been made by BIARS to Sedgemoor District Council as we have an interest in this. No other organisation has come forward to suggest a person."

He added that the role would be advertised and that a "free, fair and open" competition would be held.

The Town Council's Policy and Finance Committee previously recommended that the council should give a grant of £3,500 per annum for 3 years for the role, which would be match funding from BIARS for the day-to-day admin and running expenses. This funding was to come from £40,500 set aside in earmarked reserves for regeneration.

 


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