Former Councillor, Ian Driver, has claimed that Thanet District Council (TDC) is trying to “deceitfully hide ” a compensation payment of almost £1 million made to troubled Dreamland Amusement Park operator Sands Heritage Limited (SHL) in order to “protect the arses of top council bosses and politicians” . The payment of £912,892 was made to SHL in November 2015. It is understood that it was made in order to prevent an embarrassing court case, in which SHL intended to claim damages from the council for failing to meet its landlord obligations under the terms of its 99 year lease agreement for the Dreamland Amusement Park. Although the council has never publically stated how much it paid to SHL (1) it did admit in a recent statement that “The Council and SHL agreed to settle claims and counterclaims in November 2015”. After examining TDCs draft accounts for 2015-16, Driver discovered that this large payment did not appear to have been included as separate item of expenditure and “seems to have been merged into other figures to hide it away from public scrutiny”. On 6th July Driver wrote to TDC saying “I would also like to raise with you my concern that the draft accounts for 2015-15 do not appear to identify the sum of £912,892 which was paid by Thanet Council to the operator of the Dreamland Amusement Park, SHL. This payment was, I believe, part of an out-of-court settlement with SHL made because the council had failed to comply with its agreements with this company. Because of the nature of this payment I would have expected it to have been reported as an item of exceptional expenditure and to have been mentioned in the notes to the accounts in a similar manner as the damages payments to the live animal exporters have been treated in the accounts. This does not appear to have happened and I would be grateful if you could let me know whether the draft accounts will now be amended to identify this payment as exceptional with an accompanying explanatory note”. On 3rd August, a senior TDC Finance Manager replied to Driver stating that “I can confirm that I am happy with the current treatment (of the payment to Sands Heritage) and no additional notes will be added (to the accounts). Driver has now contacted the external auditor who is currently checking TDCs accounts and has asked that in the interest of public accountability and transparency he reverses TDCs refusal to separately list the payment with an explanation of its purpose, in the 2015-16 accounts. Said Driver “I believe that TDC’s refusal to identify and explain this £1million payment in its accounts was a deliberate effort to cover-up the fact that it was forced to pay compensation to SHL because of its utterly incompetent management of the Dreamland project. Had the Council managed the project efficiently and effectively there would have been no need to have paid £1million compensation. Hiding this payment away in the accounts is a despicable and deceitful act which is all about protecting the arses of senior managers and politicians rather being open, transparent and accountable to the taxpayers to Thanet. This appalling anti-democratic action is another reason why there should be a full independent inquiry into the council’s management of Dreamland.
1. Thanet Council has never stated how much compensation was paid to Sands Heritage. The figure of £912,892 was disclosed in a document produced by SHL’s administrators and published on Companies House website in July 2016