How To Waste £500,000

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How To Waste £500,000

by Tim Thorne , reviewing Scarborough Borough Council’s failed attempt to sell off the historic Town Hall in St Nicholas Street, Scarborough.

I’m sure you all remember the failed attempts by Scarborough Borough Council to move the Town Hall out to Dunslow Road at Eastfield in 2012. Planning for the move commenced in 2010 when the Skipton Building Society announced that Prospect House, the former headquarters of the Scarborough Building Society, would be up for sale at a later date following the movement of all operations at Scarborough to the Skipton Head Office.

I’m sure you also remember reading the ‘facts and figures’ given out by Officers of Scarborough Borough Council in support of the move. Many people had asked questions about the reliability of those figures, the bizarre omission of other figures and the inclusion of figures that had nothing to do with the Town Hall move.

I myself had asked via an FOI request about the inclusion of a figure of £1.7million for an IT upgrade which was purported to be necessary if Scarborough Borough Council were to stay at St Nicholas Street. It was clear from the reply that the £1.7million figure was a work of fiction and the actual amount was £775k. After further examination it was clear that none of the equipment being bought was intended to upgrade the facilities at St Nicholas Street. All that equipment could and would have been moved to Dunslow Road if plans for the move of the Town Hall had come to fruition.

Another Scarborough Borough Council lie exposed?

Skipton_BS_no_buy

On the 17th July the Cabinet recommended to the Council that staff should remain at Scarborough Town Hall. On the 20th July, during a Full Council meeting, elected members voted to reject the proposed move and that staff should remain at Scarborough Town Hall. We all remember Cllr Tom Fox’s reasons for not moving ahead with the project:

The Town Hall move was

  • not just about pounds, shillings and penceCllr Tom Fox

Cllr Tom Fox also stated that “he had been strongly swayed by how the public saw the building and how it was the heart of the council which would have been lost if there had been a move to Prospect House”.

Hilariously, a few months after the Town Hall move to Eastfield collapsed, a report written by E C Harris and commissioned by Scarborough Borough Council stated that Office Space could be shrunk by 71%.

Town_Hall_no_sale

When asked through an FOI who initiated plans to move the Town Hall to Eastfield the Officers of Scarborough Borough Council stated in no uncertain terms that is was the brainchild of the Cabinet.

Scarborough Borough Councillors who were part of the Cabinet during the Town Hall Move fiasco were as follows:

  • Cllr Thomas W FOX
  • Cllr Jane M KENYON
  • Cllr William CHATT
  • Cllr Brian SIMPSON
  • Cllr Derek J BASTIMAN
  • Cllr Andrew BACKHOUSE
  • Cllr Penny MARSDEN
  • Cllr Mike COCKERILL
  • Cllr David JEFFELS

Three Officers of Scarborough Borough Council were also listed as members of the Cabinet during the same period. It is noted that none of these Officers have lost their jobs in the recent redundancy programme.

  • Lisa DIXON – Monitoring Officer
  • David KITSON – Deputy Monitoring Officer
  • Hilary JONES – Strategic Director

Behind the scenes there was much going wrong with the proposed plans to move the Town Hall. The peasants were revolting and the costs were escalating. One item of future expenditure was woefully underestimated. Within a number of years a new roof for the new building would be needed at a cost of at least £1million. Factoring these and other costs into the equation and also removing bizarrely added costs made the option for staying at St Nicholas St much more favourable.

None of the figures imparted as part of the Consultation Process were ever amended to reflect reality. Scarborough Borough Council were quite happy to continue to misinform the public with regard to the costs of the Town Hall Move.

One bit of gossip I did hear was that Scarborough Borough Council would never get Planning Permission to move the Civic Function to Dunslow Road. This is what prompted the sudden U-Turn during the 17th July 2012 Cabinet meeting which was later ratified at the 20th July 2012 Full Council meeting.

It is known that Scarborough Borough Council engaged East Riding of Yorkshire Council in 2012 regarding the move of Civic Functions to Dunslow Road. FOI requests were made to East Riding of Yorkshire Council in 2012 and 2013 regarding sight of the pre-application advice sought and given.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council rejected both requests due to client confidentiality.

On 24th August 2012 I also FOI’d Scarborough Borough Council for the same pre-application advice. On 28th August 2012 I got the standard boilerplate response. It set my expectations to receive the information I had requested within the allowed timeframe of 20 days for their response. I sent SBC the first reminder on 18th October 2012. The second reminder and a request for an Internal Review as to why they had not answered the FOI request on the 14th December 2012, and a third reminder on 11th January 2013.

To date Scarborough Borough Council have made no meaningful reply to this FOI request. Obviously they don’t wish to divulge any information which makes them look incompetent. If information did make it into the public domain that after spending £500,000 or more of public money on planning the Town Hall move to Dunslow Road, that they completely forgot about planning permission until the last moment they would be a laughing stock. Perhaps the in-house planning advice differed so much from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council planning advice that it was never considered until the last moment that the move of the Civic Function to Dunslow Road just wasn’t feasible.

Perhaps when the reality of the planning situation hit home Scarborough Borough Council decided to weave a web of deceit and concocted the story about ‘listening to the people’ to mask their gross incompetence.

The truth is that they had been more strongly swayed by not revealing their gross incompetence in wasting upwards of £500,000 of public money.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Related reading:

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/sbc-town-hall-move-costs-by-tim-thorne

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/sbc-councillor-outfoxed-or-fox-outed

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/scarborough-cabinet-worst-in-the-uk

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/sbc-leader-cllr-tom-fox-under-fire

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/the-assets-of-scarborough-borough

http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/scarborough-borough-council-neglect-of-public-buildings

Billy_Liar

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9 Comments

  1. kathleen parker February 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    They do it time and time again WASTE our money,time the lot of em went.

  2. Rupert Ferguson February 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    Brilliant article Nigel, when is the book coming out? Rotten Boroughs ‘best book of the year’ is it?

  3. Brian Dodds February 3, 2013 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    The longer this goes on, the more of these madcap schemes of these incompetants come to light, you just couldn,t make this up. Obviously not one of them has a shred of dignity and they all believe they are above the common herd, they are totally devoid of any social conscience and it is long past time these idiots were turfed out. I notice that a lot of the names, if not all of them, on the cabinet are also on the list of double dippers, and no doubt if more digging is done their names will crop up as being involved in other nefarious practices. They obviously take their lead from the self(con artist)servatives we,ve got in downing street, because their behaviour is just as questionable .

  4. Longbones February 3, 2013 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    How very strange that this proposed Town Hall move is surrounded by such controvesy, in fact the cynics amongst us could almost say that it was predicted. For those who remember the copius condemnation of the ill fated Castle Foot scheme in the Evening News, this appears to be a mini repeat of what went before.

    The Clown Hall rides again, what a sorry state of affairs.

  5. Richard Ineson February 4, 2013 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Sadly, it just isn’t Scarborough Borough Council who are guilty of these ill thought out schemes which squander our money to no purpose. North Yorkshire County Council are just as guilty, the Irton Tree £250,000, The £3.8 million shortfall on the sale of the Highways Depots,the surfacing of the ‘road to nowhere’ the £415,000 spent so far on the Park and (get taken for a)Ride scheme without even a blade of grass cut, to show for this money, and going back a while,the outrageous and unparalleled,blatant waste of public money by the North Yorkshire Police Authority – the £500,000 spent on luxury cars for senior police officers, the £28,400 shower etc..
    Even to a lay man,never mind highly qualified and highly paid, planning officers, it should have been obvious that the semi derelict and rapidly deteriorating,former offices of the Skipton Building Society were not a viable proposition as regards providing office accommodation for SBC staff and providing services to the public, especially in view of the current ‘rolling back’ of the state’ policy of the coalition government, which will not be reversed even if we have a change of government at the next election.
    We are living in times of great change, it is a pity that we do not have any Councillors or apparently any Council staff who are aware of what is happening in the modern world, anybody heard of ‘new technology”the internet’ ‘the world wide web’ all things which are worth taking into consideration when making business plans for the future.
    Let’s hope that someone from SBC is reading this and that it is making them think. God help us and save us from this dismal bunch of posturing windbags and APPALLING DEADBEATS. Incidentally, my computer wrote the last two words in capitals, of its own accord.

  6. Richard Ineson February 4, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

    This is what I wrote about the proposed move, in July, 2012

    Why I think that the proposal to move the Town Hall and SBC staff to the former building society offices at Eastfield is unwise.

    Local Government is in the middle of a period of great change. Looking back over the past few years, Local Authorities used to be responsible for the provision of water, electricity and gas, public transport, hospitals, slaughterhouses, housing, and doubtless, other services which I have forgotten; these have now all been transferred to the private sector.

    The provision of the remaining local government functions will also be progressively transferred to the private sector, with local authorities only retaining the responsibility for the provision of the services, but, not actually employing the staff and ensuring that these functions are performed satisfactorily.

    Local Authorities will oversee the tendering process for the provision of services by the private sector, and they will organise the supervision/audit of the services, they will also retain the function of raising the finance to pay for these services, via some form of the Council Tax.

    The Councillors will still have the same decision making powers as they have at present.

    What this means is that the number of people employed by local authorities is going to fall dramatically, this fall in numbers will be accelerated as new technology absorbs more and more of the routine administration work presently done by Local Authority staff. New technology will also enable the staff of Local Authorities to work from home.

    All of these factors indicate that the need for office space is diminishing.

    The only way to manage the changing needs of SBC as regards office space is to rent it; this is what private companies have been doing for some years; the changes in the manner in which Local Authorities provide services will happen gradually, and there is a need to be able to adjust office space requirements as the levels of staff employed by Local Authorities fluctuate.

    Looking at the ex-building society offices, this building is a white elephant. And in the present financial climate should be on offer at a bargain price, the owners claim that it cost £10 million to build and they are willing to let it go for £3 million, sounds like a bargain, but I don’t think so.

    If SBC do not buy it, who else is in the market for a rapidly ageing office block built in the middle of nowhere?

    If it is to be bought, it wants to be bought at a knock down price, because in a few years, that is what will happen to it; the price should be nearer £1million – and even then, it needs thinking about, very carefully.

    What needs to be considered is this; what will this building look like in twenty years time, when the roof is leaking and the heating and air conditioning and the windows and the interior all want replacing? This state-of-the-art work place will look very outmoded and shabby in only a few years time. Given the record of SBC as regards maintaining its public buildings, it is unlikely that this building will receive the care and attention which it will need to keep it in good order.

    Looked at from every angle, this proposal is a non-starter. If followed through, it will be a financial millstone round the neck of SBC Council Tax payers for many years to come. I cannot see who will benefit from the move; the electorate will be inconvenienced as regards accessing the Town Hall and disadvantaged financially; the staff, I would think, will not want to be working in a building which is in such an isolated location.

    Let us hope that we have some Councillors who are not going to be dazzled by a few tinted windows and coloured brickwork.

    [Richard Ineson: 08/07/2012]

  7. Patricia David February 4, 2013 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Nice one Tim, We said at the time of the U turn that the Officers were so managerially incompetent that they did not think to do a HR Strategic Plan for medium & long term Resource and Asset Planning when it was blindingly obvious that they were going to need a lot less space because of changing staffing levels and working practices. The Councillors unfortunately depend on the Officers being competent. Hopefully we are educating them to know they are anything but. We also discussed how much this fiasco had cost in wasted money. Thanks for finding that out.

  8. Nigel Ward February 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Make no mistake: a small group of elected members and paid public servants are playing Monopoly – with the public purse. Whether it is a matter of monumental incompetence or something more nefarious remains to be seen. What is patently obvious is that the whole country is in the direst possible financial straits, yet here in North Yorkshire the public purse is leaking like a colander – into the hands of ‘double dippers’, “Me Too!” exploiters and worse. A full audit, from well outside of the sphere of influence of the present incumbents, is a matter of the greatest urgency. Perhaps Mr Goodwill could intervene – if he is not too heavily involved in his own efforts to make a profit from the system?

    • Rupert Ferguson February 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      This is not just peculiar to Yorkshire, Whitby, or even Durham, where I am. It is a national phenomenon and always has been! The only difference now is that with the internet us ‘peasants’, as we are clearly viewed by these unscrupulous individuals who see themselves above the law, can contact one another easily and join the dots!

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