EDDC fight CDE – not on your life say officers …unless, of course, councillors instruct them to do so …
Owl says: Leader Ingham seems to be thoroughly persuaded that the previous Tory majority council is whiter than white on the relocation project. Many disagree and had hoped that his new broom might be doing some sweeping – but not under the carpet as seems to be happening.
“A full report will be provided that will analyse in detail East Devon District Council’s relocation from Sidmouth to Honiton as ‘questions hang in the air’ over the project.
East Devon District Council’s moved into their new headquarters at Blackdown House in Honiton on February 11.
The new HQ, which replaced the council’s existing HQ at The Knowle in Sidmouth, cost the council £8.7m, while an additional £1.5m was spent on upgrading Exmouth town hall where one third of the council staff are to be based.
The controversial decision to relocate offices was taken back in March 2015 as it was decided the council needed to relocate into buildings that are affordable, cost efficient, and would significantly reduce the overheads of the council.
But the relocation project has faced criticism over the lack of transparency throughout the project, the procurement process, and the amount of cash the council received for the sale.
A freedom of information request asking how much the Knowle would be worth with planning permission said the answer was £50m, £42.5m higher than the council agreed to sell the land to Pegasus Life for, the latest edition of Private Eye states, naming the council as a ‘rotten borough’ because of it.
At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance, said that ‘questions hang in the air’ over the project.
He asked: “Both the disposal of the Knowle HQ and the procurement of the new Honiton HQ are matters of great concern to thousands of people in East Devon. Questions will hang in the air until they are fully addressed.
“Will the leader of the council support the immediate creation of a councillor-led working party, politically balanced, of up to 10 members, all of them newly elected in 2019, reporting to the scrutiny committee, to look into these matters in the public interest?”
In response, Cllr Ben Ingham, the council leader, said: “Relocation has been a key element of the council’s transformation agenda in terms of delivering against priorities of reducing council operational costs and introducing modern ways of working.
“Throughout its lifetime the relocation project has been subject to regular reporting to cabinet and council, dedicated project management, senior member and officer oversight through the Office Accommodation Executive Group, regular risk review and the scrutiny of South West Audit Partnership.
“Prior to the decision to move to Exmouth and Honiton and dispose of the Knowle site an independent audit was carried out to inform the decision to relocate and to test the financial projections for the project. These findings were included as part of the report to cabinet in March 2015 seeking approval of the move.
“Both Audit and Governance and Overview and Scrutiny committees met jointly to consider the relocation project programme and gave their endorsement. Cabinet and Council were provided with extensive detail, independent evaluation and wider committee endorsement as part of their approval.
“Relocation has been delivered successfully in terms of the physical moves and performance of the council. Furthermore this complex project has been delivered within budget.
“A project closure report will be provided to council at the one year anniversary of the project which will include a full project cost analysis and detail of operational costs for the first year of operation of Blackdown House and annual running costs of Exmouth Town Hall.
“If Scrutiny were so minded they could ask to consider the officer report or undertake a piece of work themselves and as Leader I would not want to restrict or pre-empt their independence to set their own forward plan. The Scrutiny Committee is politically balanced and already well placed to do this without the imposition of a working party which is constitutionally unsound in terms of its suggested membership.”
Cllr Arnott said that ahead of the May elections, the East Devon Alliance manifesto on their website saw their page on the relocation project have page views that were ‘streets ahead’ of anything else.”
He asked: “Can I be assured that if anyone on scrutiny wanted to commission a piece of work on sale off the Knowle and procurement of this, there would be nothing to stop them?”
Cllr Ingham confirmed if a member of scrutiny wanted to request that, then they could do so.
He added: “At the moment the project is coming in favourably to the target budget. The idea of waiting a year before the report was to establish more accurately exactly the savings that the council is making in the new building.”
As at June 2019, ast Devon to bear the brunt of new housing:
And is second highest (after Bournemouth) in percentage terms:
We paid our 4 ex-Prime Ministers (now 5, and one ex-Deputy) more than half a million pounds last year
“Public money spent on supporting the offices of Britain’s five surviving former leaders has jumped by nearly 80 per cent in six years – despite the fact that many of them have gone on to become independently wealthy after leaving 10 Downing Street.
New figures show the costs of supporting the offices of ex-PMs Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, as well as the former deputy PM Sir Nick Clegg, increased from £331,000 a year in 2013/14 – the first figures that are available – to £589,000 last year. …”
“Countryfile host John Craven has hit out over the loss of rural services, saying the problem has left residents “socially isolated”.
He laments the disappearance of many rural shops, schools, post offices, pubs and bus routes.
He said: “In particular this has hit the rising number of pensioners who live long distances from surgeries and hospitals and maybe don’t have anyone to keep an eye on them.”
The TV veteran feels the main visual change to the countryside in the past 30 years is the swathe of “new homes on the outskirts of villages.”
But he voiced his concern that there have not been “enough affordable ones to stop young country folk migrating to towns”.
The long-running series’ presenter also told BBC Countryfile Magazine: “No matter what happens over Brexit, I worry for the future of UK food production.”
With just 60% of Britain’s food currently home-grown, he warned: “It’s vital that we step up our level of self-sufficiency and improve our exports.
“Most farmers are middle-aged to elderly and over the years so many sons and daughters have told me they have no interest in taking over from their parents.
“So we’ll need more young recruits from non-farming backgrounds if future food demands are to be met.
“Politicians must face up to this or the UK will be forced to rely increasingly on imports.”
The ex-Newsround host, 78, also said “one joy of being at BBC Countryfile Live every August is to be regarded as a friend by folk I’ve never met before”.