Is this why Skypark fell apart?

Page 42 of next week’s cabinet papers:

“Also, a key plus point regarding Skypark was the prospect of a turn-key guaranteed maximum price arrangement to completion of a new HQ that would minimise uncertainty and reduce risk”.

This reads as if EDDC were expecting their new HQ to be constructed (by whom?)ready to move into at a fixed price (turn-key). They say in their paperwork that it was only after “due diligence” and a “legal opinion” on 4 June 2014 that a situation about the need to take account of EU regulations was revealed, coincidentally around the time that the supermarket was reducing the price it was prepared to pay for the Heathpark site.

Of course, we cannot know what went wrong for sure as all costs and cost deliberations have been kept secret not only from the public but also from the majority of councillors of all parties.

This debacle urgently needs Overview and Scrutiny and/or Audit and Governance intervention – and possibly a report by internal and/or external auditors so that those involved can learn from their mistakes and other councillors can understand what was being done in their name and work out how to stop it happening in future.

Presumably the Cabinet will recommend one or more of these actions at their meeting next week.

Why didn’t they ask almost anyone but EDDC councillors and officers? The signs were there …

9 February 2014 from EDA website:

Local residents, EDDC’s own watchdog committee, and own staff defied

The Cabinet of the East Devon District Council has selected Skypark as its preferred site for its headquarters. If the decision is approved by the full Council on 26th February, officers would carry out further research into the viability of the move. Marketing of the Knowle would begin “promptly”. A final decision would be taken in the summer. No financial details of the proposed move were announced to justify the decision to leave the Knowle in favour of a site which, currently, has poor transport links and certainly does not fit the Council’s claims that its District headquarters should be somewhere more central than Sidmouth. 

The East Devon Alliance deplores this choice, and EDDC’s undemocratic insistence on a project which has no clear financial justification. As Head of the Relocation Team, Richard Cohen , admitted to the Council’s own Scrutiny Committee recently, he has not asked the Head of Finance for “a full breakdown of the costs”. And yet, in addition to the substantial expenses already incurred (well over £350,000), the Council plans to set aside a further £400,000 of tax payers’ money over the next two years, just for preparations.

EDA Chairman Ian McKintosh says, “Economically, this is not the time to rush ahead with a massive spending of public funds, on a move that is widely regarded as imprudent.” Coherent arguments in favour of retaining the Knowle have been ridiculed by the Leadership, without serious debate. Sidmouth resident Robin Fuller’s detailed suggestions for refurbishment of the existing purpose-built buildings, and possible sale or conversion of the historic former hotel, were patronisingly dismissed by Councillor Diviani in just two words, as “Fuller’s Folly?”.
From Save our Sidmouth 27 February 2014

“A Full Council meeting last night, that began with repeated warnings from senior Councillors about tough financial times ahead, terminated with a swift show of Tory hands which will result in a multi-million pound spend of public funds. The marketing of the Knowle, and pushing on with the relocation ‘ambition’, were voted mindlessly through with the Cabinet minutes.

Independent Councillor, Ben Ingham, had shrewdly said earlier,”I do not believe you know what you are doing”. Debate had been initiated by Independent Councillor Claire Wright and colleagues, but was persistently stifled by the Tories, with some appalling personal attacks and as Councillor Roger Giles had to point out in one instance, downright lies. The Council’s audio recording of the meeting will make interesting listening.”
From Sidmouth Independent News 27 February 2014

SIN hears from reliable sources that Leader, Paul Diviani’s poor performance on Good Morning Devon this week, has alarmed councillors.

Cllr Diviani was clearly rattled by Matt Woodley’s reference to the “relocation fiasco” and floundered badly when trying to justify the Cabinet’s proposal to move to a business park on the edge of Exeter.

He failed to address Cllr Claire Wright’s comments on the same programme that it was a reckless suggestion at a time of austerity that would export East Devon jobs to Exeter and make it more difficult for residents to visit the offices.

“It is a business that we run”, he said and made the promise that if people can’t visit the new HQ “we will visit them” (SIN –How much will that cost?) His only comment on the financial aspect of the move was that “the cost has shifted around a bit”!

He bumbled on, seeming to argue that because he had to travel a long way from his Yarcombe home to Skypark, lesser mortals could be expected to bear some hardship as well.

 Sceptics are beginning to wonder if the choice of Skypark for EDDC’s HQ move is an attempt to bale out one of the leader’s pet projects. The huge new business park  site is  rumoured to be rather short of eager tenants.


Knowle relocation and EU Regulations: the questions that Overview and Scrutiny and/or Audit and Governance probably won’t ask

In Cabinet papers:

“On 4 June 14, Cabinet agreed that specialist expertise be commissioned to advise on the specialist area of European procurement, relating to Skypark. This advice has confirmed that a European procurement process for site acquisition and development was likely to be required, with additional cost and associated delay. Since June, however, as the body of the report explains, Skypark has in any case become less affordable due to the reduction in projected capital receipts likely to be available for the office relocation project.”

So, how come that for around 3 years no-one spotted that the new HQ project would require that it be done under EU regulations to promote fair competition and that this would result in additional costs?

What was EDDC planning to do that would have fallen foul of the regulations?

Who spotted it and how?

How much did the expert advice cost?

Why did the Relocation Manager not spot it earlier – wasn’t he recruited as an expert in these matters at huge cost?

Why is the construction of a new HQ in Honiton not under the same rules (or is it)?

Has anyone checked?

Why was Skypark dependent on the “all eggs in one basket” approach that fell at the first hurdle when the supermarket lowered its offer?

Was this included in the risk assessment?

Was there a risk assessment?

Whose head will roll?

And for future reference councillors and officers, here are the thresholds above which strict EU procurement guidelines are mandatory:

We like to be helpful where we can.