The Long Read: Lots of Questions About Folkestone Town Centre Management Limited.

Folkestone Town Centre Management Limited (FTCM) has had 24 Directors and two Secretaries. Its current directors are Tom McNiece former Mayor of Folkestone (pictured) Robert Richardson Vice – Chair (pictured) Elizabeth Lawson (pictured) Kirstine Borrello (not pictured) and the Secretary & Chairman  Benjamin Sharp (pictured)

                           Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-13-50 Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-16-58 Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-14-26 Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-24-42

FTCM whose life began on Feb 1st 2001 and whose FTCM Memorandum Of Understanding pg 16 makes clear that they will promote, protect the home and overseas trade, commerce and industry of Thanet, not Shepway, as you can see below. This has never been changed even though questions were raised about this in 2015/16.

Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-31-12

FTCM have charged and retained fees for hiring out Folkestone Town Centre. You can contact some of the companies after you have finished reading, if you are so inclined to do so.  Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, British Gas, E.on, Npower, Walker Construction, Buzzlines, Crosskeys and lots of national charities, plus many others over the years. According to a HMRC spokesman there is also some dispute about the fact that FTCM may not be allowed to charge VAT.

In a recent turn of events, Arthur Atkins Principal Environmental Health Officer for Shepway District Council (SDC) sent the following email to Ben Sharp, Chairman of FTCM on the 22nd March 2017 at 15:58:

  • Dear Mr Sharp

  • I have now confirmed with Kent County Council(KCC) that the Sandgate Road precinct, the area marked in yellow on the attached map, is a highway and is, therefore, owned by them. The effect of this decision is that Folkestone Town Centre Management have no authority to issue consent to anyone to use this area. You must immediately stop any arrangements that you have made with either anyone or any organisation for the use of the precinct.

  • Shepway can give permission for street trading and have entered into an arrangement with KCC to give consent to events. The use of the precinct will also be restricted by the lack of any Planning permission for events.

On the 24th March 2017 (11:57am) Ben Sharp replies and copies in Robert Richardson (Vice Chair) , Cllr David Monk, Sarah Robson Head of Communities for Shepway District Council and one other

  • Dear Mr Atkins

    I acknowledge receipt of your formal note below and would confirm that precinct bookings have been cancelled/suspended until further notice pending our own full review on the matter.

Mr Sharp goes onto say in the same email

  • it will help if you can refrain from talking to our clients on the legality of precinct use

What does that imply to you?

Anyway, Sarah Robson Head of Communities at SDC responds to Mr Sharp, copying in Cllr Monk, Robert Richardson, Neil Edwards KCC and Arthur Atkins SDC and says

  • FTCM does not own the land and is not legally permitted to give consent for its use or charge/retain income for activity on the site.

Mrs Robson is clearly implying that FTCM cannot charge or retain monies, so how have they been allowed to do so for the last 16 years without anyone noticing is the question?

You can read these emails and draw your own conclusions. The emails were gained via FOI, and we advise that you start at the bottom and work your way up. You can read them here

FTCM’s accounts show that for the last four financial years they have not made a profit and remain in debt to the tune of slightly over £32,000 according to companies house.

It is clear from the emails that FTCM engages with KCC to ensure that they can charge and retain monies for the town centre space as of March 2017 and we know from a twitter comment by Robert Richardson Vice Chair of FTCM there was a meeting at the town hall on July 25th 2017, to discuss and put together a Memorandum of Understanding to make the agreement formal.

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We know that the following attended that meeting:  Councillors Roger West, David Monk & John Collier Neil Edwards & Paul Sargeant – KCC, Graham Hammond – SDC and Robert Richardson – FTCM (in place of Ben Sharp)

More Questions Than Answers

  • On what legal basis has FTCM been allowed to charge and retain money for the hiring out of Folkestone Town Centre for the last 16 years?

Do remember that their Memorandum of Association states FTCM is to promote Thanet NOT Shepway.

  • Where is the evidence they were allowed to charge for the last 16 years? Is there any?

  • Why does Ben Sharp Chairman of FTCM ask Arthur Atkins to refrain from talking to our clients on the legality of precinct use? 

  • Did Ben Sharp know that what FTCM was doing was illegal? – What do you think?

What due diligence has either SDC or KCC done on FTCM?

Companies house shows Robert Richardson address as being in Barham, Mr Richardson has not lived there for nearly a year and he has not bothered to change these details at Companies House; which is a very simple procedure.

Screenshot from 2017-07-30 07-16-58

Also Mr Richardson (pictured) is under investigation by HMRC and was arrested and released on bail with regards to the “The Grand’s tax liabilities” along with two others according to a spokesman for HMRC. This was reported by Kentonline on 27th July 2015.

Are KCC aware of this fact?

Is it right and proper that a Director who is under investigation by HMRC remain on the board of FTCM, or should he step down from FTCM while the investigation is ongoing?

Also have FTCM informed their clients; who they have charged and retained their monies about the fact they may not have had the legal authority to charge for the use of the precinct?  Are they going to tell them? What do you think?

Should KCC allow a private company to manage, charge and retain the money for hiring out Folkestone Town Centre, especially when we do not know where the money goes or what it is used for?

Would it not be better to hand over the management of Folkestone Town Centre to Folkestone Town Council? At least that way the money would be visible and accountable and benefit the whole of Folkestone, which includes Cheriton.

Or another alternative being, put it out to tender, thus allowing other potential tenderers to bid who may/could do the job better. Who knows!

It is reputed that the space brings in between £20 – £30,000 a year.

If you believe that the Town Centre should be managed by Folkestone Town Council or be put out to tender, as we do, then you can write to:

Folkestone Town Council

To many anomalies and questions which need answering surround Folkestone Town Centre Management Ltd. During these times of austerity, surely it would be wiser for our cash strapped Town Council to receive the money for managing the space, so allowing the people of Folkestone & Cheriton to benefit from this income rather than a private company; who according to Sarah Robson  does not own the land and is not legally permitted to give consent for its use or charge/retain income for activity on the site.  Oh and there is the fact that one of FTCM’s  director remains under investigation by HMRC and is on bail, two years after his original arrest.

Finally, if your company has been charged by FTCM for hiring out the precinct for you to use, you might want to contact a solicitor as Sarah Robson makes clear, FTCM does not own the land and is not legally permitted to give consent for its use or charge/retain income for activity on the site. Also don’t forget, Ben did ask Arthur:to refrain from talking to our clients on the legality of precinct use.” And if you’ve been charged VAT you might want to contact HMRC.

The Shepwayvox Team

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5 Comments on The Long Read: Lots of Questions About Folkestone Town Centre Management Limited.

  1. I represent a company who was charged for this space on numerous occasions and charged VAT, so will be following up your advice and be contacting a solicitor and HMRC. Thank you.

  2. They have had a pretty packet out of the company I work for. I will be drawing this to the attention of the legal department come Monday morning and no doubt he finance department will get in touch with HMRC regarding the VAT charged.

  3. Good suggestion – Folkestone Town Council should receive the money for renting
    out this space..

    And surely it must follow that as the FTCM weren’t legally alowed to ‘rent’ out the area – then does it not follow anyone paying FTCM for an area should be able to claim their fees back on the grounds of false pretences in that it wasn’t FTCM’s area to rent out………

  4. Mr. Richardson also describes himself as the Kent County Council Enterprise Adviser, a scheme which ‘pairs senior business volunteers with schools and colleges to build employer engagement plans’. He was a judge at the recent Folkestone Academy “Society Day – Shape Your Future” event which was based around local tourism. I hope he proves to be blameless in this affair for the sake of our young pupil for whom he seeks to set an example.

  5. Lawrence Corbusier // August 10, 2017 at 12:58 // Reply . The picture speaks for itself . — no jokes required…………..

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