Here’s my speech (sorry if a bit abbreviated in places) ………..
Important to clarify that the recommendation from OSC was UNANIMOUS. I was asked by chief executive to make alterations including to insert the words “some councillors” referring to independent survey proposal.
Council has a major PR problem with its office relocation project.
And if it was bad before, it has just got a lot worse.
The leadership has worked up plans to move offices, having taken virtually every decision in the past 18 months or so, in private session.
This is controversial enough. And costs have rocketed from a few million to many million and v little information in public domain for members of the public to satisfy themselves right decision.
Now, big part of the justification for moving – central location – has been dropped – decision made by cabinet – again in private session.
The cabinet has moved the goalposts. And they can’t blame the badgers!
Now told Skypark is best option – but for whom?
Not 13,000 public who visit EDDC to see staff.
Not thousands of mems of public who come along to observe and speak at meetings.
Not staff who will need to travel further.
Actually, have a sneaking suspicion that sudden shift in goal posts, is to avoid a bit of an embarrassment.
That Skypark, although it has been marketed for four years, has only managed to attract two takers – the ambulance service and Eon Energy Centre.
Can understand that everyone is keen for Skypark to be a success, but this should under no circs, be any reason whatsoever for EDDC to move its offices there.
Any decision to move to Skypark would mean ripping out a strong part of the ED economy and setting it up to benefit Exeter. This is nothing short of economically suicidal behaviour and surely the very last thing that we should be considering.
And I see from the Midweek Herald that there is already alarm from businesses about the possibility of A FIFTH supermarket at Honiton as this council plans to sell off the business centre’s land to help finance the relocation.
I am really struggling to understand why this council would be willing to put at risk the economies of two towns of the district to fulfil its own ambition for new offices.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money has been spent on looking at moving alone.
But the options of reworking the existing site (much of which was purpose built for this council in the 1970s!) have simply been labelled “unaffordable,” without being costed.
Term “cost neutral” now “without causing an increase in council tax.”
Moving to the UNANIMOUS recommendation of the OSC last month for an independent survey on the Knowle buildings, this appears to have been dismissed by the cabinet even before the minutes have formally gone before it.
In the Sidmouth Herald of 14 February, Leader appears to describe his OSC as “group of serial critics who have raised their heads above the parapet once again to try and put a dampener on our plans to relocate the council’s HQ.”
There were similar dismissive references in the cabinet minutes of 5 February to the OSC recommendation – that were again made in private session.
I am aware that there is growing unease in the ruling group about the office relocation project and I appreciate the efforts of some of those conservative councillors who have already expressed those concerns in public.
For the council’s leadership to belittle, ignore and diminish residents views is undemocratic and unwise.
For the council’s leadership to belittle, ignore and diminish the views of its own OSC, raises serious constitutional issues. The OSC has a statutory role in local government to act as a check on the significant power of the cabinet.
It exists to raise legitimate issues of public concern, which this project has most definitely caused.
After all, it is our residents own money that we are spending!
People simply don’t trust that the Knowle is as dilapidated as they are being told.
Most other councils are cutting services and tightening their belts this council doing complete opposite!
And it is only going to get harder as more cuts have to be made in the coming years.
Is it really worth selling off our assets to anyone who will buy them, no matter what the cost to the East Devon economy, to fund an expensive office new build, AND THEN risk getting into debt because we still can’t afford to stump up the cash?
Ask ourselves – who are we here to serve? Ourselves? Or the residents of East Devon?
If you truly believe (as I do) that we are here to serve the residents of East Devon, we must take their views seriously – and that means taking the OSC recommendation seriously.
Cabinet papers last July stated: “This is one of the most significant decisions that the council will take since it was first created.”
With that in mind, I am asking this council to act NOW on the UNANIMOUS recommendation by OSC on allowing an independent surveyor to examine the Knowle.
This will, quite rightly, mean a delay on making an indecently hasty decision to buy the land at Skypark for almost £1m, while such a survey is carried out.
I am also asking for a RECORDED VOTE.