ray morgan

CUTS - Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council's decision

CUTS – Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council’s decision

A PETITION to overturn the decision to withdraw funding from the Neighbourhood Advice Centre has been thrown out by Woking Borough Council.

More than 700 signatures were presented to the council by Labour candidate Mohammad Ali at the meeting of the full executive on Thursday.

His plea swayed the opinion of a number of councillors who originally opposed the continued funding of a service that provides integration and administrative support to Woking residents – but the proposal to reverse the decision fell short in the vote.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal was one of those in favour of funding the NAC with the £40,000 required to keep the service alive.

He dismissed claims that the Citizens Advice Bureau offers a similar service which could be as readily accessed by residents.

Cllr Iqbal said: “There is a genuine need for this service in the community. The Citizens Advice Bureau has put on one-day services but this is not sufficient to accommodate the increase in users of the NAC in the past year.”

Figures show 2,500 residents accessed services at the Maybury Centre-based offices in 2011 – a 500 user increase on the previous year.

The centre has been without funding since the original decision to cut support was made late last year and the NAC has since depleted its reserves just to keep the doors open.

And Mr Ali, who is taking the council to High Court over ‘persistent electoral irregularities’ after missing out on a seat in the May elections, estimates funds will only last another ‘two or three months’.

He said: “With no external funding, we were solely reliant on the council. Without their support there is no other way to fund the service. At the moment we’re operating on reduced opening hours and as a group we now have to hope funding can be generated from other sources.

“Our biggest grief with Woking Borough Council is the hazy criteria they provided us with and insisted we meet for funding to continue. We were told we had to achieve charitable status, receive a quality mark and appoint independent trustees to the board – all of which we did.

“We don’t really understand why a 20-year service is now being closed down without so much as a grace period.”

Chief executive Ray Morgan confirmed the council’s decision was final. He said: “The original decision was entirely a matter of discretion – there was not a consensus that value for money was being achieved.

“Members took the view that other groups currently provide similar services in the area which are free of charge where we are having to fund the NAC.”

BID – Mohammad Ali (right) with Labour agent Elizabeth Evans and candidate Tom Crisp

BID – Mohammad Ali (right) with Labour agent Elizabeth Evans and candidate Tom Crisp

A CANDIDATE for Maybury and Sheerwater has petitioned the High Court to declare a Woking Borough Council election result null and void and is seeking a new election for the ward.

Labour candidate Mohammad Ali says: “I have filed a civil case against councillor Mohammed Bashir (as respondent) and his supporters for being involved in electoral fraud.”

At the count on May 3, tensions were high as the Maybury and Sheerwater results had to be verified and then recounted twice.

It may be interesting to note that there are eight people registered to vote in Mr Bashir’s own house

Mr Ali narrowly missed gaining Labour a seat in the civic offices, with 1,072 votes counted, while Lib-Dem candidate Mr Bashir managed to hold on to his seat by 16 votes.

Mr Ali said: “The allegation is not because I lost by just 16 votes but we could see suspicious activities and registrations.

“I allege that electoral offences were committed by the winning candidate or his agents (supporters). These range from multiple registrations to ghost voters. Initially 73 such cases have been identified and the list has since grown.”

Mr Ali claims categories of fraud identified include:

  • Postal votes cast while the voter was out of country.
  • Voters pressurised into handing over their postal votes.
  • Ghost voters – those who do not live at the addresses specified.
  • Close relatives of Mr Bashir known not to be resident in the ward but registering last-minute to vote for him.
  • Multiple new registrations close to the election period in houses not even registered as homes with multiple occupants.

Mr Ali added: “It may be interesting to note that there are eight people registered to vote in Mr Bashir’s own house.”

Mr Bashir has declined to comment on the case until after the proceedings. Mr Ali says the High Court has passed on his case to the Crown Prosecution Service for investigation.

Although Mr Ali says he has nothing against the council and that his case is against Mr Bashir, because he is requesting a re-election for the ward, the council says effectively it is a case against their returning officer responsible for overseeing elections, chief executive Ray Morgan.

A procedural hearing is due to take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on July 27 with Cllr Bashir and Woking Borough Council’s barrister representing respondent Mr Morgan.

Mr Ali concluded: “Myself and my supporters are also collecting our own evidence. This time I hope to prove electoral fraud and get the result overturned as we feel democracy must be restored.”

CAMPAIGNER - James Tucker lives next door to the property in question

CAMPAIGNER – James Trotter lives next door to the property in question

FURIOUS Knaphill residents battling a private company’s plans to move mental healthcare patients into a house in their street turned out in force for an emergency meeting.

The Victoria Road Action Against Alpha Hospitals Group called the meeting after finding out that the property at No.14 bought by Alpha was not in fact to accommodate staff – as the vendors and estate agents had been led to believe – but to house five 14 to 18-year-old female patients, within a four-house radius where 23 young children live. Builders had already been moved in without warning.

Although Alpha had refused numerous requests to send a representative, Woking Borough Council chief executive Ray Morgan, local councillors Melanie Whitehand and Saj Hussain, 38 residents and the Woking News & Mail attended the meeting on Friday at the St Hugh of Lincoln Church in Victoria Road.

After three weeks of being “fobbed off’, the group had made up to a dozen invitations to the private healthcare company to send a representative to make them accountable.

I understand the stress caused. I am here to see if we can reconcile the situation

All were refused without explanation – repeatedly saying they would meet individuals only.

Questions were emailed to the hospital but were either not answered at all, side-stepped or answers changed.

Apologies had been received from the council for their lack of communication. A formal complaint had been made to them but with a waiting time of seven days. And the group had written to MP Jonathon Lord who was unable to attend but wants to be updated on the situation.

James Trotter, who lives next door to the property with his wife and three young children said: “My home has been valued at £475,000 but, an estate agent said, if the house next door does become a care home, the value will drop by £100,000.

‘We have no problem with nurses moving in.”

Mr Morgan said: “I understand the stress caused. I am here to see if we can reconcile the situation.

“Council officers have advised Alpha to make an application for its legal use. This is an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness. If it complies, Alpha will be able to proceed. If not, they will have to go through a formal planning application.”

When asked about the deceitful way the company had bought the house, Mr Morgan said: “I am not in a position to speak for Alpha on the subject of being misled. I will take it up with their senior management.

“The house is not the same as the hospital. It is about moving people on in settled accommodation. It could be my daughter, your son… these could be our children. I can personally speak as I lived near a house in the same position in Gloucestershire where there was no problem.”

A resident said: “Is that why you moved here, then?”

Mr Morgan said: “We do need a dialogue with the company and to look at how do we help manage this situation.”

Mr Morgan said: “I have come here to find a way to address the issues. I have not come here to make it stop.”

Another resident said: “I worked in a home in Camden for 14 to 18-year-old girls and I can guarantee you there would be a blow-up three or four times a week – windows broken, furniture smashed up… I promise you it will be mayhem.”

Mr Morgan replied: “Let’s not stigmatise these children.”

Asked what degree of mental issues the patients may have, he said: “Some children will have different conditions. I don’t know who these people will be. There is an absence of clarity. I am happy to come back and answer all your questions.”

When asked what do the neighbours do if the patients move in and then kick off, Mr Morgan said: “We need to find out what constitutes ‘disturbance’, ‘inappropriate conduct’ – we need it defined.”

When compared to ‘normal’ teenagers’ behaviour, another resident responded: “When they play their music too loud, you just knock on the door and ask them to turn it down. You can’t do that if you don’t know who’s going to answer the door and what reception you might get.

“We want to know what the protocol is if something happens – management, Alpha…”

Mr Morgan said: “If things did get out of hand and I am unable to overturn the process, I will seek authority from the council to intervene and buy out Alpha.

“What I might seek to do is a back-to-back deal with Alpha for the council to buy the property from them and house a family in it.

“But the deal goes both ways – from you residents too.”

It was pointed out that the neighbourhood officer is also very concerned about what the police might have to deal with.

A resident said: “You should have at least two carers in a house of five teenagers, which will make the total seven and therefore it’s a business.

And: “If the clients are in the house for only six months, as we have been told, they are transient and therefore not resident.”

Another resident asked: “It is a profitable opportunity for Alpha – doesn’t that make it a business?”

Mr Morgan said: “It is a private business with the NHS. This is exactly the same. Yes Alpha will make a profit, just as your GP does and NHS dentists. The point of delivery is part of NHS services.”

To which a resident replied: “But I don’t think my doctor or dentist are mentally disturbed.”

James Trotter added: “We were planning to spend the rest of our lives living here. If it goes ahead, why don’t you buy my house and move in, lose £100,000, because we do not want to live here.”

Mr Morgan concluded: “The first stage will be for Alpha to apply for Certificate of Lawfulness via the council. And state what they will do in writing.”

He has said that he will seek to get Alpha to commit to taking no action to commission the operation at 14, Victoria Road, until the council has been able to determine the planning use of the property.

If it is established as a lawful use he will endeavour to establish with them the precise nature of use and a protocol that would secure reasonable operation to avoid local disturbance and to remedy any events should they arise.

He will also seek an exit route if possible should the need arise.

Mr Morgan is seeking to secure a letter from Alpha to residents to this effect by Friday, July 13.

He has requested a ‘cooling off period’ of no public activity against this intended use while he pursues these matters.