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Independent councillor raises conflict of interest concern over Tory member who is also governor of school at the centre of Friary Grange Leisure Centre closure row

An independent Lichfield councillor has raised concerns over a possible conflict of interest if a Conservative counterpart votes on any decision to close Friary Grange Leisure Centre.

Joanne Grange and Jamie Checkland
Joanne Grange and Jamie Checkland

Lichfield District Council has deferred a final vote amongst its members on the future of the Eastern Avenue site until September.

A public meeting at Curborough Community Centre saw questions asked of the local authority in terms of future leisure provision if Friary Grange were to close.

One of those who spoke at the debate was Cllr Jamie Checkland, a Conservative member for Leomansley ward.

Cllr Checkland, who is also a chair of governors at The Friary School – which intends to become an academy – told residents that his priority was the pupils of the school and insisted the leisure facilities ultimately belonged to the school.

“I became a councillor because I’m disappointed with the sports provision within Lichfield,” he told the public meeting.

“I’ve been fighting on behalf of The Friary School to get a fair crack of the whip in relation to the facilities and the income that comes in to the school and the way in which the pool and other elements are managed.

“My priority is the children of the school. They are there to be educated and the money that comes into The Friary School should be used for their education.

“We gave notice that the school wanted their facilities back. They do belong to the school and they create an income. “

“Hugely disappointing”

The public meeting over the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre
The public meeting over the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre

But Cllr Joanne Grange, independent member for Chadsmead ward, said his comments drew into question his ability remain impartial in any vote on the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre.

“I find it hugely disappointing that lessons do not seem to have been learnt about councillors’ conflicts of interests,” she said.

“For a councillor to stand up at a public meeting and state that his priority is the children of a single school rather than the whole community is astounding.

“I wrote to council leader Cllr Doug Pullen last night about this matter and expressed my concerns about Cllr Checkland being involved with, and ultimately voting on, the proposal to close Friary Grange Leisure Centre given his clear statement about where his priorities lie.

“I have called on Cllr Pullen to ensure that this very clear and publicly stated conflict is appropriately managed.”

Cllr Grange has also asked for clarification on the role of councillors who sit on both the district council and Staffordshire County Council.

“I expressed concerns about the dual-hatted councillors who sit for both councils being involved in the debate and vote given the county council has already taken the action to serve notice.

“Presumably, having already been involved with the Staffordshire County Council decision it would be very difficult for them to then support any action which contradicts the stance their other council has already taken?”

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14 Comments

  1. Simon Partridge

    16th July, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    This is more than a mere conflict of interests, surely? LDC’s own Code of Conduct states that councillors “should serve only in the public interest, and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person, organisation or group, or any other third party.”

    Cllr Checkland stood in front of large public gathering and told them “My priority is the children of the school.” If that isn’t conferring an advantage I don’t know what is!

  2. Michael Winsford

    16th July, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Another week, another conflict of interest/undisclosed business interest from this hugely dysfunctional council. Surely there can’t be many councillors left who haven’t been found to be hiding something?? LDC is rotten to its very core.

  3. Steve

    16th July, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    3. Can you keep it open a bit longer?

    No, unfortunately we cannot keep Friary Grange Leisure Centre open beyond April 2020, as legally our right to operate it runs out in April 2020.

    https://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/friaryfaqs

    Sounds like a done deal.

  4. Steven Norman

    16th July, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    I spent some time earlier today looking for the background to the County Council’s decision but I could not find one – because the decision does not seem to have gone to any Committee or Council meeting.

    It may be that County Councillor Philip White has acted alone and that decision is a “delegated” one yet to be published.

    Look forward to finding out.

  5. Phil smith

    16th July, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Unbelievable. The three councils that supposedly serve us residents are completely inept.
    The county council seem beyond reproach, make decisions out of the public eye and cut services, the district council go along with them and end up doing the dirty work of the county but are completely incompetent and do not learn (no consultation, conflict of interests) and the city council just spend money on fencing off the city centre to try and make it some Georgian pastiche!
    On top of that a waste of space MP who’s government has caused all these problems then he tries to make him self loon like the good guy!
    Can’t we recall them all?

  6. William

    17th July, 2019 at 12:23 am

    While our councils are awful, Lichfield has an excellent MP who takes keen interest in minute details of his constituency. Mike is also really funny and approachable both on social media and when you meet him in person.

  7. AnnS

    17th July, 2019 at 9:21 am

    https://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/friaryfaq

    11. Will you be building a new facility to replace FGLC?

    Making sure our local residents have local opportunities to keep fit and healthy remains a priority for us – whether that’s through facilities we provide directly, or through working with partners. We are now working up our options, following the decision to withdraw from Friary Grange, to ensure we can meet our commitments and local people have access to good local facilities in years to come.

    ‘local residents have local opportunities’ – So what is really being said is you can either travel to Burntwood or use private facilities. They didn’t tell us this before the local elections in May. I wonder why?

    ‘remains a priority for us’ – so much so that had it not come to light on Friday, a vote would have been taken behind closed doors last night, and we’d be reading about that decision today.

    ‘We are now working up our options’ – Cllr. Checkland and Chair of Governors of the Friary School said the school went into talks 3+ years ago about becoming an academy which SCC would have been party to, and LDC said they were served notice sometime ago. So, why didn’t LDC work up their options then?

    So, will they build a new facility? Cllr. Pullen said at the meeting that to do this they would have to identify land. Birmingham Rd (Friarsgate) was suggested. They don’t seem to know or are not telling us what will happen to this. He laughed, and quickly bypassed the notion. But why not, after all there were leisure facilities in the plan for Friarsgate, and you couldn’t get more local – ‘local people have access to good local facilities in years to come’.

    So Steve, sadly, question 3 is definitely on the cards no matter what we do or say, but this shouldn’t stop us soldiering on and keeping up the pressure for a new public leisure centre, but with LDCs record I fear it will not be in my lifetime, just as Friarsgate was never going to be.

  8. AgitatorofPeople

    17th July, 2019 at 10:07 am

    From LDC website “To keep the leisure centre open beyond April 2020, Lichfield District Council would have been required to take on a lease and invest over £440,000 to address urgent issues, including the roof, electrics and boiler, in a building that we do not own.”
    To keep the library open SCC/LDC plowed £1.2 million into a church owned by the lichfield diocese, they dont own that.

    Who carried out the buildings report? How did they come to this figure, and how did they come to £2.4 million to fully renovate? As far as I can see there has been limited work done around this closure, it looks like figures made up to justify its closure.
    Maybe an FOI will make it more transparent.

  9. Viv

    17th July, 2019 at 10:21 am

    In all my 54 years of living in Lichfield – I have NEVER known such a period of utter chaos and contempt from a serving council. You really do get the impression that they detest the community. I’m sad to say that voted for them (gave them one last chance), and already I regret doing so.

    The mismanagement makes them simply not fit for purposes.

    Lichfield deserves far better than this circus, and if the council refuse to make wholesale changes then we, the people the claim to serve, should take matters into our own hands.

  10. Darryl Godden

    17th July, 2019 at 10:31 am

    It’s hard to understand Jamie Checkland’s position:

    “I became a councillor because I’m disappointed with the sports provision within Lichfield,” he told the public meeting.”

    So firstly, why isn’t he lining up with the protesters if he’s disappointed with the sports provision in Lichfield?

    “I’ve been fighting on behalf of The Friary School to get a fair crack of the whip in relation to the facilities and the income that comes in to the school and the way in which the pool and other elements are managed.”

    Despite stating in the public meeting that there’s no requirement to teach swimming, which is a pretty lamentable position, despite that – if the sports centre is closed to the public and becomes the sole responsibility of the school, which is then farmed out to investors in the dodgy academy scheme

    “My priority is the children of the school. They are there to be educated and the money that comes into The Friary School should be used for their education.”

    What is happening to that money now? Tell us more. What assurances can Mr Checkland give that The Friary won’t end up the way many other academies have gone, stripped of assets, forced into debt and laden with questionable contracts siphoning off funds?

    “We gave notice that the school wanted their facilities back. They do belong to the school and they create an income. “

    Just bizarre, LDC want to shut them because they not profitable, Checkland wants them back to make a profit.

    Do these people realise why it all sounds very grubby and NOT in the best interests of the school or the public?

  11. Steve

    17th July, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    To suggest Friarsgate will have a swimming pool, or any sports facility is fantasy.

    In theory the Friasgate land is some of the most valuable in Lichfield, given its location.

    The council are showing their budgets are stretched to the limit.

    Friarsgate land will be snapped up by a new homes developer, at a bargain basement price.

  12. Vivian

    17th July, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    On a very serious note, how do we (as a community), go about removing the council?? Is there a precedent?

  13. Steve

    17th July, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    @Joanne_Grange As the council signed a 10 year deal with Freedom Leisure in 2018.

    Would I be correct in assuming there will be a contract termination/ amendment fee?

    If so, is there any indication what will the value be?

  14. M L

    17th July, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    It is about time councils and the so called paid profesionals where called to account. 40 years ago they warded a contract to build a commercial building to a house builder who shortly after went bust but it was a cheap job as far as they were concerened. In the last 40 years spending on maintenance has been NIL Some body some where must be liable but as it is public money no body will admit to it . All theses problems started to occur when councillors were no longer doing the job in the evening for the honour but for money and council workers were over paid
    We need to go back to the days off working for the community not how much can I earn in expenses etc

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