Monday, April 21, 2008

Op-Ed: Cash Stash funds Tool Pool & Arch Lark

We're proud to present the second op-ed from Digger regarding Sean Parker-Perry and Active Longdendale. Based on their post over at the alternative Active Longdendale blog, it looks at the murkey world of funding for this virtually underground clean-up team.

"...It would appear that Councillor Sean Parker-Perry's (nee Sean Perry) blogspot is suffering from a period of inactivity. In fact his one and only post came in late January just after his return from Spain. No doubt this is because he has been busy writing up his research on the aromatic effects of burning olive stones on open fires. The residents of Longdendale are awaiting this vital information with baited breath, and so are we. The story can also be viewed at the Bad Air Sponge

On the subject of bad smells we continue to dig for the truth behind the creation and purpose of Active Longdendale. In this post we shall look specifically at the financial aspect.

The story begins with an 'It's Your Community' Award from mobile phone company O2 in late 2006. Whilst details of the award are no longer available from the O2 website, they have been kindly preserved for posterity in an obscure online magazine entitled 'Parish Pump News' (at the foot of page 13 - opens PDF).

Here we are told that Active Longdendale is an "ingenious scheme to create a sustainable and self-funding tool resource for local groups wishing to improve their immediate neighbourhood but who lacked the tools to carry out the work". I want you to remember the words 'self-funding' for later in the article.

You may also wish to ponder the fact that there is in fact a Rangers outpost within Cllr. Parker-Perry's immediate neighbourhood at Lymefield in Broadbottom, only a couple of hundred yards from the infamous Railway Arch where he plans to store the said tools. Furthermore, one of the two alleged clean-ups that Active Longdendale take credit for was in Etherow Park, who also have a 'Friends' group along with their own tools and store!

The Parish Pump article goes on to say O2 awarded a cheque for £400 to buy several start-up tool kits and quotes Active Longdendale's 'co-ordinator' Sean Parker-Perry:

"This support has enabled us to buy the tools necessary to seed self-help groups who will now be able to tackle trouble spots because they have recourse to a tool pool."

Finally, the ever helpful Pump informs us that since receiving their O2 award the project received more attention ... aah, that will explain this article in the Glossop Chronicle then:

Oh yes. What's more, this attention has apparently led to additional funding and consequently new opportunities to inspire other groups to to start their own clean-ups in areas within the Longdendale Valley. I'll let you, the readers, be the first to give me the news on such inspirational examples that AL has created.

Personally I am more intrigued by the additional funding aspect.

Whilst the £400 grant from O2 was widely publicised, a much larger award - £8,000 from the 'Awards For All' (Award No. 121) Lottery Fund (yes that's right £8,000!) didn't rate a mention in the local press. Odd. Particularly so when one considers that Sean is particularly keen on publicity and photo opportunities (a future blog!). Let's face it, even if we disregard the New Labour penchant for PR and pizazz, any politician worth his or her salt would want to shout it from the rooftops if they secured an £8,000 windfall for their community. Yet not a dicky bird!

So the next obvious question is "What do AL want £8,000 for?". It sure would buy a lot of tools! According to the blurb "this new group will hire out more tools and create a disabled access to its storage building to encourage more users of the service". Ah yes. The storage building - that's the infamous Railway Arch remember? Now this really is odd.

The conversion of the said Railway Arch begins with this planning application to his own council which, unsurprisingly, gave the nod. There are two things of note about the Arch itself. First of all it is not of any use in its present state to act as a secure lock-up for said tools. Basically it is derelict and it will take an awful amount of spending to make it anything like secure.

It is literally an open archway with no doors or any form of security and with rocks and rubble strewn throughout - derelict in every sense of the word.

One can't help wondering why they don't opt for a standard lock-up like an existing garage or shed? Something that is relatively cheap, secure and immediately available for members of the community who actually want to hire some tools, now that Spring is in the air.

The other puzzling aspect of acquiring a derelict archway is the cost. Spacia is the name of the company that rents out these arches and to get some idea of the cost, type 'Stalybridge' into 'property search' on the site - property reference SYB03904 (Unit 3 Waterloo Court) is the nearest example to Broadbottom where there is something available. Wow. £6,100 per annum +VAT. Not cheap then. Admittedly, this one comes fully furbished, but still not cheap.

I would suggest that the £8,000 Awards For All would just about cover the cost of refurbishment plus rental costs for the first year, but then what? They would have to rent out an awful lot of tools to cover rental costs of the archway per annum. Particularly when one bears in mind that this is a not-for-profit enterprise. Awards For All cannot award grants to companies that aim to make a profit! This is made plain on page 2 of their Guidance Notes. Hence, this brings into question the feasibility that this can ever be a self-funding project, something I alluded to earlier...

Readers of this blog may have also noticed a political dimension to AL so at this point I would simply draw your attention to the fact that on page 4 of the Guidance Notes above, it also states quite clearly that they will not fund political activities.

In summary, we have an organisation with an undefined legal status that allegedly hires out tools to the community and has acquired known income to the tune of £8,400 to do so. Yet does anyone know how to contact Active Longdendale, and how to join them? Has even a single person ever actually hired any tools from this spurious organisation and if so when, how, from whom and from where?

It seems certain that had Active Longdendale purchased any tools for the community we would have heard about it in the local press, to whom Sean as a Councillor, clearly has access. It's equally certain that if a rental service had been established, the community would know about it by now.

Apart from the Archway, the only other known expenses that Active Longdendale have incurred come from the Spanish expedition. You may recall that Cllrs Parker-Perry and Jonathan Reynolds went to Moclin in Spain as representatives of AL which brings us full circle.

Moclin, Moclin. Mmm. That rings a bell. Ah, yes. Didn't the Longdendale District Assembly grant 'Friends of Moclin' £500 recently? Yes that's right. In December 2007. Just a month before our local Cllrs went to Moclin themselves. What a rare coincidence! People do say we live in a global village these days and when unfathomable events like this just happen to occur in a quirky manner you just know it's true. Well blow me dahn, who'd of thowt it possible? I wonder though. Is it possible that lightning could strike in the same place twice?

Surely not. Better wait and see though!..."

Once again, we have our own thoughts on this matter.

Firstly, the status of Active Longdendale. It's been variously described as a trading co-operative, a charity, and a small business enterprise. The latter description is of particular interest, since those were the words of fellow Longdendale Councillor Roy Oldham, upon defending AL and Sean and Jonny in the press when the Olive Stones debacle reached the newspapers. As Digger has noted, were AL to be a profit-making enterprise, that would breach the terms of the grant from Awards for All.

To be a Co-operative, AL would have to be either a Limited Company or an Industrial and Provident Society, and there's no evidence it's either of those.

It's clearly not a Charity, as Sean's website and literature would then have to display their registration number.

Also of interest is that Awards for All make it clear that the money must be able to be spent within one year, in this case of August 2007. So this raises the question, how has it been spent? Has Sean in fact bought the railway arch? It would seem not, because the planning application documents make it clear he's the lessee from Spacia. Given that the arch is derelict, it's not yet been spent on restoration. They're in no hurry to spend the money.

We await August 2008 with interest.

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