“Knowlegate”: Del-Boy and the Trotters spring to mind – but just the fools (no horses that we know of)

“East Devon District Council’s senior management team have been rebuked by scrutiny councillors after failing to consider the public perception over the sell-off of assets from their former Knowle HQ.

The council this week completed its move from its former Sidmouth home at the Knowle, to Exmouth town hall and the new Honiton Heathpark HQ, and as part of the move, they had to find homes for various items that are unsuitable for its new building.

But a furore erupted just before Christmas when it was first revealed that council staff and members, but not the general public, were given the chance to bid on various items, and then when an email was leaked claiming a councillor managed to buy a large mahogany dining table and 20 chairs for £50 at the internal staff auction, instead of allowing it to be publicly auctioned for the best possible price.

A council spokesman had said that this leaked information was totally incorrect with the bid being for £400 and only including some of the chairs, and that the bid was withdrawn when Exmouth Town Council, who initially declined the offer of the table originally, changed their view just before Christmas and are now expected to take ownership of the table.

Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of East Devon District Council, had previously said in a statement: “Our council relocation team has been working with professional auctioneers, Sidmouth Town Museum, charities and clearance specialists, to value and dispose of a wide range of items from our old East Devon District Council offices at The Knowle in Sidmouth.

“As part of this process, we offered our staff and elected members the chance to bid for items that may be of sentimental interest or practical use, but are of negligible commercial value.

“The value of items to be disposed were identified based on the view of experienced professionals. They included the large table from the Members area, which attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50.

“All proceeds from this sale and those raised from other sales will go to the Chairman’s Civic Fund, to be donated to nominated charities.”

East Devon District Council’s scrutiny committee considered the disposal of the contents of the Knowle at their meeting last Thursday.

Richard Cohen, the Deputy Chief Executive, produced a report that outlined the process of disposal of items from the Knowle prior to handover to PegasusLife for demolition.

He said: “As part of that process and prior to the handover of the old office buildings to the developer, the council needs to clear the buildings. In total there are just over 2,600 separate items in the Knowle.

“The vast majority of these are office furniture: desks, chairs, cabinets etc of varying ages, condition and size. There are also a number of particular items of varying antiquity and value: these involve both furnishings and fixture and fittings. From a perspective of bulk disposal the estimated total weight of all these items is 45 metric tonnes.”

He outlined that Sidmouth Museum and Sidmouth Town Council were both interested in re-home various items, multiple local auction houses were invited in to look over items but that the majority of items were not of interest to them, and that for remaining items an opportunity was offered for council staff and members to bid for items whether for practical or aesthetic reasons.

He said: “These were items that had been attributed little or no sale value by the various professional auctioneers and ranged from standard office furniture items to cupboards, upholstered furnishings, tables, curtains for example. This element of the disposal process involves around seventy separate items and is likely to raise of the order of £2,000 for the Chairman’s chosen charities.”

Mr Cohen added that groups such as Action East Devon, Green Furniture Aid and Hospicare who are all either networked with voluntary groups or can sell furniture via charity outlets were asked whether they had an interest in some of the for the more generic items such desks, chairs and tables, but the response has been largely muted.

Town and parish councils will also be contacted asking them whether they have an interest in any items with the requirement that they transport said items away themselves, he added.

But councillors said that contrary to what Mr Cohen said, a full list of the items for disposal had not been circulated to them.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Roger Giles said: “There has not been a list that we have seen so could someone produce a list that will be circulated very soon.” He also asked wat do town and parish councils know about the process, as the answer he had heard from them is nothing.

Cllr Cathy Gardner added: “Why was the full explanation of the process not circulated to members before we were given the chance to bid for items? The reason there was a furore around the subject as the offer of sale of items internally was offered in isolation and the lack of communication meant there was a lack of understanding of the wider process that this sat.”

Her recommendation, which the scrutiny committee backed unanimously, was that they remind the senior management team of the council to always consider the public perception of actions taken, particularly when it is involves public assets, and the disposal of public assets.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/council-management-team-rebuked-over-2545040

Workplace parking charges -will EDDC officers and councillors finally have to cave in

Just about every year, Ottery independent councillor Roger Giles – whose environmental credentials are strong – has petitioned for EDDC councillors and officers to introduce parking charges to encourage them to think more about the need to use their cars. Every year, the Conservative majority has voted him down.

Maybe this will change – though with rural public transport so poor, it seems likely that they may have to stump up the cost! Particularly when what is left of it often stops so early!

Buses from the new Honiton HQ to Sidmouth will end at 8 pm, to Axminster they will end at 6.10 pm and to Seaton at 3.40 pm (yes, that’s right 15.40!).

Owl’s guess – allowances and salaries will be raised to cover the extra cost.

“The AA says plans to charge drivers up to £1,000 a year to park at work could become a “poll tax on wheels”.

Under plans to cut congestion, reduce pollution and raise money for public transport, a workplace parking levy is being considered by at least 10 councils.

The charges would affect businesses with more than 10 parking spaces and the AA said the costs would be passed on to workers.

The levy has already been rolled out in Nottingham where four in 10 companies pass on the costs to staff.

Since it was introduced in 2012, the charge has raised £53.7m which has been used to improve Nottingham’s tram network.

Hounslow Council in west London is proposing to charge between £500 and £1,000 a year for every parking space and at least nine other councils are considering imposing the levy.

Other cash-strapped authorities are likely to consider the measure because of a shortage of funding for road improvements and public transport.”

https://news.sky.com/story/drivers-could-be-charged-up-to-1000-a-year-to-park-at-work-11611486

Knowle Flog It: statement raises more questions than answers

An “explanation” of the Knowle Flog It fiasco appears in today’s Sidmouth Herald. It appears to be printed verbatim from a council statement.

Owl wonders why this statement was printed without challenging some of its very, very vague claims – one hesitates to use the word ‘facts’. “Journalism”? Not as Owl knows it!

Guess some answers MIGHT come from the Freedom of Information request by an Exmouth resident on 8 January 2019:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/10/the-knowle-flog-it-scandal-rumbles-on/

In the meantime:

Amongst Owl’s questions:

It seems Councillor Skinner paid £400 for the table he wanted so urgently – earlier reports mentioned it being valued at a very low price, much lower than £400. Which is correct? And including just how many chairs?

Who decided on the “three disposal methods? It does not appear to be the Asset Management Group.

Which councillors have bought items? Have they declared these on their Registers of Interest?

Which groups were offered ‘free’ items, how were they chosen and by whom? Have any of these groups taken items – and if so, which groups and how much did they pay for them?

What exactly is the Chairman’s Civic Fund and how and when has it been used recently and in the past? What are its rules? Who oversees the disbursements?

Which local groups and charities will be able to bid for what is left after officers and councillors have taken their pick? How have they been chosen and by whom?

Are internal and external auditors happy with the procedures?

Will the Scrutiny Committee be scrutinising these actions?

Owl is sure readers have many more questions!

EDDC new HQ: take pics, post and boast on social media and ….

On 10 January 2019 EDDC posted pictures of its glam new shiny HQ building in Honiton

Unfortunately, they didn’t think it through and here are a few comments on that post:

Excellent!! So whilst many many families can’t afford to eat and are having to use food banks, or can’t afford gas and electric, you decide, the best thing to do is to put on your page pictures of your new offices, that the people who can’t afford to eat, have paid for it. …

They do as they please because they’re a law unto themselves. They can do what they want with your money and get away with it. You can argue with them til your blue in the face and NOTHING. They will always win. …

Shame you sold all the stuff from the old building off dirt cheap to the staff and councillors. £50 for a 24 seat mahogany table. Shame shame shame on you. …

My god, the more I see this, the more it’s unbelievable, really EDDC, you should be ashamed, not only is this building an eye sore on our towns landscape, the disgusting amount of money it is costing is nothing short of a disgrace, and then you have the audacity to show off the extravagant interior on Facebook, when there are families struggling to pay your thieving council tax. Let’s hope your illustrious leader, whoever he or she is, comes on here and apologises for this self indulgent, disgraceful post, shame on you EDDC!!!!!

The Knowle “Flog It” scandal rumbles on

Recent Freedom of Information request:

“Dear East Devon District Council,

The following is a request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Recently an email from a Conservative counsellor was released into the public domain regarding the purchase of a “very large table in the members room” as a result of “an auction of council furniture, chattels, etc” to the benefit of members and EDDC staff.

The email went on to state “I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say)” and then stated arrangements for its removal date in order that it could be used for the Councillor’s Christmas dinner for 22 family members.

Subsequently on 21st December 2018, the Leader of the Council made a statement about the disposal of a range of items, including this table. He said the large table “attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50”.

I would like to know:

If one valuer’s estimate was £50, what were the other estimates?

What are the names of the valuers who gave estimates for the table?

Does EDDC audit not require a range and record of estimates for the disposal of council assets, as well as a record of disposals?

EDDC, like other councils, should have a written policy and procedure for the disposal of assets such as used equipment, furniture and other plant, What is that policy and procedure?

Who was the Councillor that successfully bid for “the very large table in the members room”?

How much did the Councillor pay?

Was the ornate clock on the mantel piece (as shown on the cover of the Residents Magazine, December 2018) part of this disposal process?

If so, what was the valuation given?

What price was paid?

Who bought this clock?

The Leader of the Council referred to proceeds of this sale and other sales going to the Chairman’s Civic Fund.

How much money was raised from this sale of “items of sentimental interest or practical use”?

What are the “other sales” Councillor Thomas refers to?

How much money was raised from each of these “other sales”?

What is the total now of the Chairman’s Civic Fund?

Information about the Chairman’s Civic Fund is not easily accessible on the EDDC website; a word search on the site produces “no result”. Where can details of this fund and its administration be found?

Yours faithfully,”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/auction_of_council_furniture_cha

That Knowle table … sold for £50?

Oh, er – been kicking off on Facebook page!

22 foot mahogany table with 8 foot extension (not sure if included in 22 foot or makes it 30 foot, but probably the latter). Rumour is it was “valued” and was sold for a winning bid of £50 (fifty pounds).

Most councils have a policy on this. Anyone seen East Devon”s?

Plundering of Knowle assets by councillors? Best value?

It appears that councillors and officers have been given first dibs of Knowle assets, in advance of the move to Honiton and one of them has rather jumped the gun on claiming his prize.

Is this best value or equitable, Owl ponders? As does at least one independent councillor.

Note: Neither of these emails were marked private and/or confidential when acquired by Owl.

From a well-known Conservative councillor:

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

Dear Members and SMT,

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

You will all be aware there has been an auction of council furniture, chattels etc of which I bid for a few bits and pieces.

I bid on behalf of my partner for the very large table in the members area along with the 20 green chairs that we all sit around.

I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say).

The relevance of my informing yourselves is that the rightful date of removal is end of January/ beginning of February when we finally ‘pull out of the Knowle.

I would apologise for the short notice but we have 22 family members to Christmas dinner and would like to pick the table up tomorrow as it appears it is the last day of our offices being open, which of course would mean I couldn’t collect it on Monday, 24th, as we will be closed.

We do have one or two meetings between the New Year and our final pull out but I feel it only right to ask members if indeed anybody felt offended if it was collected tomorrow on our last day.

I will fully respect any position any member may feel regarding it being removed earlier and would kindly request your thoughts.

If indeed it were removed earlier I have spoken to Simon Allchurch who feels we could put a few of the red tables on wheels in the place of the table and there is an array of chairs to use for members in the interim so it doesn’t look bare.

I must again apologise for the short notice but with the closing date being the 19th and all that goes with it at this time of year I would like to think you may grant me a little latitude (or not).

Best wishes and a Happy Xmas to one and all.”

And here is the response from an Independent councillor

“I feel I must reiterate my comment from when this started. Who authorised the ‘private sale’ of Council property to staff and members? Why are we not duty-bound to seek the best price at public auction? No-one answered my questions.

Will we ever know the proceeds of this internal sale for the public record?”

I strongly suspect that members of the public would be shocked to know that councillors have been able to buy items in this way. It is somehow appropriate that 22 family members will sit down to feast at this table, assuming the removal goes ahead.”