Doctored information used in deliberate attempt to discredit councillors, UDC and council property investments

Uttlesford District Councillors Neil Reeve and Neil Hargreaves have responded to robustly reject claims about property investments at UDC, and that the spreading of misinformation has included the deliberate manipulation of council information

Untrue statements that are not credible

R4U’s Cllr Neil Reeve, who is also the portfolio holder for Economy, Investment and Corporate Strategy at UDC, said “To generate income which funds core services and minimises tax increases, councils can buy and let commercial property. UDC does this to create a balanced budget. There have been recent public statements to suggest that by doing so UDC is somehow ‘investing in the arms trade’. This is untrue and it is not credible that a council would do so.”

Planned tenant is component supplier to many industries

Neil Reeve (R4U) Neil Reeve (R4U)

Cllr Neil Reeve continued “All councillors are legally bound by confidentiality agreements until contracts are finalised. What can be stated is that the falsehoods revolve around one of UDC’s planned new tenants.

The company is a 50-year old UK engineering component manufacturer. It provides valves, hydraulic parts and control systems for many, many industrial uses, including into automotive, robotics, turbine/energy generation, general manufacturing, aerospace, and defence supply-chains. The company has received ‘Innovate UK’ grant funding for its engineering, which is reserved for the ‘best game-changing and commercially viable innovative or disruptive ideas’.”

Not ’in the arms trade’

Cllr Neil Reeve added “Many well-established companies, such as Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Siemens and Airbus, sell products to many industries, including our country’s defence industry and forces. That does not make them part of the ‘arms trade’. In turn these companies are supplied by many tens-of-thousands of component manufacturers that often supply many industries, such as UDC’s planned tenant. They are also not in the ‘arms trade’.”

“These types of component suppliers provide tens-of-thousands of well-paid jobs in the UK and keep the country at the forefront of engineering innovation. Where components are supplied to products in the defence sector, they protect our country and our forces. Good examples are Kevlar vests or hydraulic components in bomb disposal equipment as would be used by 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments at Carver Barracks. These regiments have the freedom of our district and should have access to the best equipment they need to protect us and themselves. It is inaccurate to characterise any component supplier of such as being ‘in the arms trade’.”

“It is even more inaccurate to apply that label to any organisation that provides services to those component suppliers, such as electric and water companies, canteen and food suppliers, office equipment suppliers, or landlords.”

Information deliberately doctored to smear UDC councillors

Neil Hargreaves (R4U) Neil Hargreaves (R4U)

R4U’s Cllr Neil Hargreaves, who is also the portfolio holder for Finance at UDC, said “The false rumours are being spread by political agitators. In addition to defaming UDC they have sought to intentionally mislead the press, residents and other organisations. As part of their campaign they have been found to have manipulated and doctored public information provided by the council in an attempt to suggest that UDC and its councillors are unfit to make these kinds of decisions. This is highly disturbing and investigations in to this have started and are ongoing.”

Income from diverse tenants fund High Street recovery, Climate Change and Sports Facilities

Cllr Hargreaves continued “UDC doesn’t invest in businesses or industries. UDC is the owner of commercial property that tenants pay the council to use. The council borrows money to do this at low local governmental rates – no taxpayer funds are used. The income from UDC’s property portfolio funds important council services and initiatives across the district. These include the Covid High Street and Business Recovery Programme, Climate Crisis agenda, and new sports facilities in Uttlesford. These programmes would be unaffordable without this income.

Ideally UDC would always purchase property and become a landlord inside the district, but this is not always possible because a balanced property portfolio requires a diverse range of tenants across many industries.  Where UDC can’t get that diversity mix locally, it seeks property elsewhere in the UK so that it can reduce the financial risks of property ownership.”

Robust and Ethical Property Purchases

Cllr Hargreaves concluded “Commercial property purchase decisions at UDC are ethical and robust, with proposals scrutinised by the council’s cross-party Investment Board. The Board was created by the R4U led council after the previous administration riskily invested its entire property fund in a single property. The 11 board members have direct and relevant experience, and include two external members with significant property and legal experience. Additional advice is taken from the council’s professional advisors and UDC officers.  Environmental and ethical matters are fully considered as part of the process.

All councillors are however the final and only decision-making body. All 39 of them are required to read, debate and weigh up any property purchase before they approve it, and so have access to exactly the same documents as the Investment Board. This process brings scrutiny, governance and an ethical lens to all of the Council’s investment decisions.”

About Residents for Uttlesford

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) is the local independent party of north-west Essex towns and villages. Formed in 2014 by a number of residents’ groups, the party believes that on local issues residents should decide, not Westminster parties.

R4U leads Uttlesford District Council (UDC). It is the fastest growing local political movement in its district. In its first election in 2015 it became the second party at UDC. In 2017 it solidified its position with a further by-election gain with 60% of the vote. In the May 2019 Local Elections R4U gained majority control of UDC winning two-thirds of the seats. The result delivered the biggest loss of seats by any UK Conservative controlled council in the UK.

R4U’s success has been based on the desire to give local people a voice and implement long range strategic and sustainable plans for their area.

R4U also leads Saffron Walden Town Council, where under its stewardship the council has rebuilt finances, invested in community assets, and won multiple awards, including the best run council in Essex. It is a minority party on Great Dunmow Town Council.

Residents for Uttlesford can be found on the web at www.residents4u.org.