EDA DCC Councillor Martin Shaw on fire service cuts

From his blog:

Yesterday I attended the private ‘masterclass’ for county councillors with Chief officers Ian Howell and Pete Bond – arranged instead of the public Scrutiny hearing which the Fire Service had refused to attend.

  • I protested about the over-complicated design of the consultation and the way it has closed off opportunities for the public to express views about particular stations – they said it was signed off by the Consultation Institute (I shall be writing to them) but like some members of the Fire Authority, I don’t think it is credible.
  • I challenged the misleading assumptions on which the calculations about ‘savings’ of life are based – they failed to respond.
  • I asked them if they accepted the estimate, based on their own data, that 600,000 people would have increased risk due to slower response times – this would include everyone in the Seaton and Colyton area – again they failed to answer.
  • I asked why they said it wasn’t about ‘cuts’, when papers presented to the Fire Authority showed clearly that saving money is a key driver.

Although I got to raise some other points about Colyton, I was cut off by the chair and didn’t get a chance to come back in. I’ll be writing up a full objection (and a paper for when this comes to Scrutiny – as I have insisted – on 25th September) and will post this here.

“Three things struck me even more forcefully, from this meeting and re-reading the papers in preparation for it:

  1. As with the hospital cuts, the bottom line here is asset-stripping. The sites represent over 80 per cent of the financial gains from the 8 proposed closures.
  2. Even more than with the hospital beds cuts, the ‘alternative’ ( in this case more ‘prevention’) is pathetically weakly developed. They’re selling off the family silver and not giving us any serious detail on what they’re offering instead. In all likelihood, they’ll pocket the gains and the prevention activity will barely materialise.
  3. Finally, they are worried about the high level of negative TV and press coverage – keep up the campaign!

Fire Service chiefs fail to answer questions at Devon County Council private briefing – but they are worried about the level of opposition

Where do profits go when British businesses are sold to foreign companies?

To disguise the fact that we are selling the family silver, these transactions are called “inward investment”. But how is tax levied and where do profits go?

And how come a Turkish pension fund can afford to buy the only British steel-maker left in this country when ours can’t/won’t?

A British windfarm, owned by a Spanish company is sold to an Australian company:

Macquarie buys $1.77 billion stake in mammoth UK offshore wind farm

A British steel company owned by an Indian company is likely to be sold to a Turkish military pension fund:
https://news.sky.com/story/turkish-military-pension-fund-plots-900m-british-steel-revival-11783143

The British-owned Morgan Sports Car company was sold to an Italian company:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Boots was owned by the Swiss who sold it to the Americans:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Sainsbury’s and British land sell British superstores to USA:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Exmouth, EDDC and Grenadier – when does a gamekeeper become a poacher?

“Dear East Devon District Council,

[order slightly changed for clarity]

I am writing to request an internal review of East Devon District Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Was independent advice sought on the governance of Queen’s Drive Exmouth Community Interest Company’.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/w…

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

Councillor Paul Millar has made some attempt to answer this FOI via Social Media. He provided more detail to my FOI than provided here, in, as I understand it his new role as a director of Queen’s Drive Exmouth Community Interest Company and a Councillor. However, although he asserted this via social media and also announced that there was another new director, according to Companies House, Cllr Stott and Cllr Williamson are still in place.

Are you able to provide more detail on the £200k that Grenadier made a good business case for according to Councillor Millar? Are you also able to clarify the amount of interest chargeable by Grenadier on the loan and other charges that the company is making to the CIC.

There appears to be some splitting of identity here, that may lead to a conflict of interest. For example when is Grenadier acting as a commercial business and when is it acting as the majority shareholder of the CIC? Are you able to offer reassurance and evidence that a valuable community asset is being utilised for community benefit rather than commercial gain?”

[Previous] council poor workmanship costs current council £150,000 to put right!

It is just a bit rich that the damage was done on the watch of the past chair of Asset Management – who is also the present chair and he now somewhat pompously says it must be put right!!! Er, if, as a council officer says “the survey wasn’t as extensive as in hindsight the council would have wished it was ..” perhaps this is one for the Scrutiny Committee!

“An extra £150,000 will have to be spent on resurfacing an Exmouth car park – because it was never laid properly by the council in the first place.

Improvement works, including resurfacing and construction of a new entrance, had been taking place at the Maer Road car park.

But John Golding, East Devon’s strategic lead for housing, health and the environment, told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that when work began, it became apparent the car park construction was substantially poorer beneath the surface that had previously been assumed.

He added: “We have found that the construction of the existing surface in the vicinity of the new entrance appears to be made up of compacted stone with a thin veneer of tar and chip over the surface.

“Given the limited depth of construction, and surface condition, it is likely that the car park would deteriorate very rapidly once larger vehicles are allowed onto it.

“More extensive works comprising both new sub-base and a tarmac finish are required to complete the project satisfactorily. We already have the contractors on site and we can do the work before the summer holidays commence.”

He added that this would result in an increase in the total overall budget of £151,760 and asked cabinet for approval to complete the work.

Cllr Geoff Pook, portfolio holder for asset management, added: “We need to do this. We have to look at our assets on a long life basis. We need to do a proper job from day one and don’t want to have to patch in a few years’ time or have a car park that cannot be used by heavy vehicles. It is out car park so we in any case would have had to do something and bring our own car park up to standard.”

Cllr Jack Rowland asked why this defect wasn’t discovered at an earlier stage during the survey works.

In response, Mr Golding said that the survey wasn’t as extensive as in hindsight the council would have wished it was.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, added: “We made a false assumption that we had done the job properly in the first place and that they didn’t need to check the sub-layers, but that was a wrong assumption.”

The cabinet unanimously agreed to the extra spending to resurface the car park to provide a good surface and base layer for 20 years.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/exmouth-car-park-resurfacing-works-3082742

EDA Councillor helps out Exmouth with acceptable compromise on Queen’s Drive

Officers sought to get permission to use land it owns at Queen’s Drive, which previously housed recreation facilities, as a temporary overflow car park for 3 years. Exmouth councillors were appalled but could see no option but to agree. Colyton EDA Councillor proposed that the land should be so designated for 14 months only until September 2020.

Compromise achieved and agreed.

Lesson learned? Hhhmmm … let’s wait and see.

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/queen-s-drive-seafront-car-park-plan-approved-1-6152147

“Unlawful decision by town council to open café led to £234k debt: watchdog”

A warning here for all councils.

“A town council did not give due consideration as to what powers it had to open a café, the decision was based on a poorly prepared business plan and, as a result, the decision to open the establishment was unlawful, the Auditor General for Wales has found.

Since opening the café in 2011, Connah’s Quay Town Council went on to incur a cumulative deficit of more than £234,000.

Finding failures in its decision making, the Auditor General’s report made three clear recommendations for the council to:

undertake a full option appraisal for the operation of Quay Café, incorporating a full financial appraisal of each option;

ensure appropriate advice is received prior to making decisions on the provision of new or novel services;

review the services it provides and ensure that it understands the statutory basis on which it provides those services.

The town council now has one month to consider the issues raised within the report and to make a decision on whether to accept these recommendations.

The Auditor General’s report is issued alongside public interest reports for Glynneath Town Council, Maenclochog Community Council and Cynwyd Community Council.

These reports set out significant failures in governance arrangements and inadequacies in financial management and internal control at all four councils.

The Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, said: “Given the scale of the deficit incurred at Connah’s Quay Town Council, I believe it is important that the public has a full and proper awareness of the events concerning the council. When it opened the café, the council did not have the statutory authority to do so and its decision was not supported by a clear and coherent business plan. As a result the decision was, in my view, unlawful.

“There are lessons to be learnt not just by this council, but by all town and community councils in Wales. The public interest reports issued today serve to highlight the shortcomings at four different town and community councils. Councils need to be innovative in dealing with community issues, but they must at all times display appropriate risk management and operate within their legal framework.”

Crompton added: “All four councils now have an opportunity to demonstrate that the risk of such governance failures recurring is reduced to a minimum. The public need to be assured that town and community councils have proper governance arrangements in place to manage the activities of the council both financially and administratively.”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/396-governance-news/40854-unlawful-decision-by-town-council-to-open-cafe-led-to-234k-debt-watchdog

“Auditors find ‘significant weaknesses’ in record-breaking investment deal and slam Surrey council’s £1bn ‘property roulette’ “

“Auditors have slammed a district council in Surrey which undertook the most expensive property investment ever made by a local authority after it found “significant weaknesses” in its financial processes.

KPMG delivered a damning assessment of Spelthorne Borough Council’s purchase of a BP research centre in Sunbury for £385m in September 2016, one of a number of costly property investments in the authority’s £1bn portfolio.

The auditors found that the acquisition of the site was decided by council officers without any public scrutiny, and the decision-making process was conducted via email and was “generally poor and difficult to follow.”
This meant it was “difficult to identify whether all the risks associated with such a large and significant transaction had been fully considered and mitigated,” the auditor said.

KPMG said it found little evidence the council had properly considered legal advice which said the purchase, the largest of its kind by a local authority in England, may be “disproportionate” to the rest of its spending.
Most worryingly, the auditor failed to determine whether the council had considered the financial impact if BP had decided not to renew or change the terms of its 20-year lease of the site.

The council then took four months to publish its decision, leading the auditor to conclude that “we are not satisfied that, in all respects, Spelthorne Borough Council put in place proper arrangements.”

Spelthorne has been the biggest investor in property in local government and since 2016 has borrowed £1bn from the Public Works Loan for the takeover of BP’s business park – as well as the purchases of offices in Reading, Slough and Uxbridge for £285m and a number of other investments.

The authority told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the “adverse value for money conclusion does not mean that the auditors are saying the actual transaction does not represent value for money but that in their opinion some aspects of decision-making processes were not conducive to maximising value for money.”

Surrey County Council’s Robert Evans said he was surprised Spelthorne had not done due diligence around the deal, and said the authority seemed to be “playing property roulette with council taxpayer’s money.”

“If the climate is good that might be okay but with Brexit around the corner everything is uncertain and this is foolhardy at best and downright dangerous at worst.”

http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/auditors-find-significant-weaknesses-in-record-breaking-investment-deal-and-slam-surrey-councils-1bn-property-roulette