At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee senior Tory councillor Peter Halse lashed EDDC’s Relocation Project. He said it risked the Council’s reputation for financial prudence. “At the time (the relocation project) looked OK, but now, with hindsight, it looks pretty bad….Quite honestly we have fallen flat on our face!” He was sceptical about Deputy CEO Richard Cohen’s claimed energy savings, and said employees based in the newer 1970/1980s building, “can’t see any reason why they’d want to move”. He concluded “It’s not just the leadership who are responsible. We need to look this thing full in the face. We can get out of this”.
Sidmouth resident Richard Eley, had already mauled Richard Cohen’s assumptions on future energy cost savings which were “way out of line” with those predicted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Mr Cohen in response welcomed the fact that auditors would now be taking “a useful look under the bonnet, as it were”. In the meantime a preferred developer had now been selected for a mix of care home and residential properties at Knowle. The planning process would have to be gone through by the developer and further attempts to delay the Knowle sale have been factored in to the costs, he added.
When Independent Cllr Claire Wright expressed concern that EDDC’s planning committee would be under extreme pressure to grant permission to develop the Knowle because the whole relocation project depended on it, she was accused of casting doubt on the integrity of councillors.
Independent Councillor Roger Giles didn’t get a clear answer from Mr Cohen about where his 10% annual energy inflation figures came from, only that they were “conservative”! And there was no answer to Cllr Giles’ second question about how much extra the renovation of Exmouth Town Hall would cost.
Tory Cllr Graham Troman (Vice Chair of the OSC) said the Knowle site was an appreciating asset while refurbished offices or new-build on an industrial estate (e.g. Heathpark) would not recoup the money spent on them.
Tory Cllr Sheila Kerridge urged her colleagues to show transparency and “not to be seen to be doing things underhand….Put the matter on hold until we know the figures”. (echoing Cllr Claire Wright’s proposal voted down a few weeks earlier.
Chair Tim Wood concluded that all would be examined in great detail by the auditors so there was no cause for alarm.
The second burning issue was the suggested reform of Task and Finish Forums.
A proposal from a Democratic Services Officer (advised by CEO Mark Williams?) that the scope of TAFFs should be proposed by officers, seemed pretty well acceptable to the obedient majority – though it is going to be thought about first by one of Cllr Bloxham’s Think Tanks.
The controversial Business TAFF will continue with the same members as before, but without too much embarrassing looking back at relations with the East Devon Business Forum whose demise seemed to be lamented by Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. He assured everyone that the TAFF will now have perfectly respectable relations with the new East Devon Business Group which genuinely represented the District’s entrepreneurs.It was time to turn the page, he said, and stop attacking the perceived influence of the EDBF on crucial planning decisions. The representative from Axminster concluded,fittingly, that he was not “trying to sweep anything under the carpet!”