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Sandwich Tollbridge Fund: Trust hits back over mismanagement claims

By Eleanor Perkins

Careful and wise management of Sandwich’s Tollbridge Fund is saving residents from having to pay a higher rate of council tax.

That is the response from the Mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Paul Graeme, after recent claims that the fund is being mismanaged.

Last month, Labour’s candidate in the recent by-election Sara Trillo told KentOnline she had written to the town council, which administers the £3.3 million fund, asking: “Where is all the money going?”

Sandwich Tollbridge
Sandwich Tollbridge

She highlighted that the purpose of the fund is to donate the surplus profits from the account towards “public works for the advantage of Sandwich.”

Yet in 2015/16 only £12,090 of the approximately £180,000 generated was donated to local organisations.

Cllr Graeme has hit back at the claims, saying no letter has been received.

He also said he is keen to remind residents that it is through “wise” management that the fund is now worth millions and if it wasn’t used in the way it was, people would have to pay more council tax.

He said: “The alterative would be that the precept would be increased.

“In fact, the precept would need to be doubled if the Tollbridge Fund didn’t exist and if it wasn’t used in the way it is, such as for the upkeep of the Guildhall.

“This would significantly affect resident’s council tax bills but in reality this is highly unlikely to happen.”

He added: “There is no mismanagement. It has been managed successfully for more than 40 years and helped lots of charities, individuals and businesses along the way.”

The Tollbridge Fund was set up in 1973 after Sandwich lost it borough status as part of the new Local Government Act.

The Act meant the town was stripped of its powers and came under the control of Dover District Council.

Following negotiations over assets, it was decided that money generated from the toll bridge charge would go into a protected charitable fund for the promotion of public works within the town as well as the upkeep of the Guildhall.

Cllr Graeme said: “It started with about £300,000 in it and through careful and wise management it is now worth millions.”

As well as interest, income is gained from properties owned by the fund including part of the Guildhall car park, Guildhall hire and forecourt markets.

That money is then distributed, with the largest proportion going on salaries – set according to the Civil Service structures – for a town clerk, mayor’s secretary and an admin assistant. Sandwich Town Council also contributes to these salaries.

The fund is also used for running and maintaining the Guildhall which is leased from Dover District Council.

Sandwich Guildhall
Sandwich Guildhall

Mr Graeme says there is an on-going redecoration plan for the building which is used by community groups, for weddings and vow renewals, and as office space. It is also home to the town’s heritage museum.

Cllr Dan Friend said: “It’s a Grade I listed buildings and historical buildings are notoriously expensive to maintain and run. It needs to be kept in good order.”

The fund also support the museum’s running costs. It has already been agreed to spend more money on the museum and create a new space for the town’s archives, making them more readily available to the public and researchers.

Cllr Graeme said this is part of the town’s New Vision For Sandwich plan and will strengthen their planned application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2018.

The remainder is spent on grants.

Trustees distribute the money in response to how much has been applied for.

Last year, the highest amount given out was £5,150 for the Phoenix Youth Centre, with the St Clement’s Church and St Peter’s Church organ funds receiving the smallest grants of £100, in keeping with how much they had requested.

In recent years, the fund has also given out large sums such as £35,000 to the Empire Cinema in Delf Street.

Cllr Graeme said: “We bought their digital projectors on one occasion. It was an exceptional payment out of capital to allow the cinema to keep running.”

He added: “Each application is judged entirely on its merit.

“The more interest we earn on the account, the more we can give out.

“We closely monitor the level of interest rates and are hopeful that in coming years the grants can be increased.”

Grants can be applied for through the town clerks’s office, for agreement by the trustees.

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