“There is a councillor on the board of directors, always has been right from the start.”
Councillor Andy Batsford was categorical at Wednesday night’s meeting of the full borough council that there was an elected member on the board of the Hastings Housing Company. When it later transpired that according to Companies House there are no elected members on the board of the company that was incorporated in 2017 and is wholly by HBC, the council’s communications team refused to publish a press release correcting the error.
Council owned company: “…has to make commercial decisions that possibly don’t always echo with the needs of our people on the housing lists or in emergency accommodation…”Councillor Andrew Batsford, Housing and Homelessness Portfolio Holder at Hastings Borough Council.
Councillor John Rankin had been asking about work carried out during the summer by himself and two other HBC Councillors Warren Davies and Leah Levane, chairman and vice chair of HBC’s Overview and Scrutiny committee.
“Among other things we made an urgent recommendation that an elected member, ideally two elected members, be put back on the board of directors of the Hastings Housing Company,” Mr Rankin told the meeting, before going on to ask Mr Batsford if, in his role as cabinet member with responsibility for housing, he was aware of the work that had been done and aware of the recommendation that had been made.
Mr Batsford immediately hit back saying it was “untrue” there was no elected member on the board of the housing company: “…there always has been right from the start.”
He then went on to explain that the Housing Company had been devised to operate at arms length from the council because there were times it: “…has to make commercial decisions that possibly don’t always echo with the needs of our people on the housing lists or in emergency accommodation, because the whole idea was that it (Hastings Housing Company) would generate a profit for the council…”
A simple check with Companies House revealed that only council officers make up the board of the Hastings Housing Company; Christine Barkshire-Jones (Chief Legal Officer) is listed as the Company Secretary, with Carole Mount (Commercial and Technical Accountant), Andrew Palmer (Assistant Director Housing and Built Environment) and Christopher Wheeler (Certified Chartered Accountant) serving as directors.
Hastings In Focus contacted the council’s press office on Thursday morning saying: “Can you please clarify as a matter of some urgency, given that the council may have been misled, what the exact position in.”
Records also show that on March 31st this year Hastings Housing Company was sitting on a bank balance of £266,925.
The response received said: “I have been informed that there isn’t currently a member on the board of the Hastings Housing Company Ltd as it has been vacant since Councillor Sue Beaney stepped down,” Ms Beaney’s tenure as director ended on June 12th according to Companies House.
Given that Mr Batsford’s assertion was given during a public meeting we asked if the council planned to correct the misinformation and were told: “We haven’t got a press release planned.”
We emailed Mr Batsford asking if he wanted to make an apology or correction but we have not received a response, he took to social media however to say: “No apology! I’ve managed to get a rented set of stocks to wheel into the town centre! That will teach that b*****d Batsford getting a fact wrong!”
Councillor Rob Lee from the Conservative opposition groups said after the meeting: ““Councillor Batsford has either deliberately misled the council or simply doesn’t know or care enough about the department he is responsible for. I don’t know which is worse”