“Reading Borough Council (RBC) invited residents to give feedback after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) offered to invest £1.36m in exchange for five per cent of some school land it owns.
One objector, John Heaps, accused the council of manipulating the outcome by removing the ‘strongly disagree’ option from the online survey to add weight to the EFA’s proposal.
He claimed: “I have attended all of the action group meetings and the wording on the feedback forms has changed since the original consultation started.
“Negative responses have been altered and the council have changed their stance midway through the process.
By making this change, it allows them to say all consultation respondents agreed that the granting of the lease to the EFA would enhance the amenity value of the ground.
“It is a very serious offence and it is evidence that a governing body is manipulating a legally required consultation process.”
Residents were asked if the EFA offer would enhance the amenity value and the latest form gives three options, including ‘very likely, more likely and less likely’.
Mr Heaps said there was no way for people to strongly reject the EFA bid due to the absence of the ‘not likely’ option and accused the council of distorting the outcome of the consultation.
RBC cited ‘human error’ and apologised, adding: “A human imputing error on the website means the ‘less likely’ and ‘not likely’ options were accidentally combined into one option for people responding to question 2 of the online survey.
“To address this point, and any subsequent concerns raised, the Trustees will be asked to consider that all responses given to this question should be in the ‘not likely’ category.
“We apologise for the error and will of course advise Trustees of the error when reporting back the consultation results.”