• Virtually all discussions on EDDC office move taken in private

    16th September 2013 | News | Claire
  • And the all-conservative cabinet has made decisions to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money, without residents being able to either see the associated reports, or be present when major decisions were being made.

    EDDC says that discussions are commercially sensitive and has so far resisted my calls to publish the reports and minutes in a redacted form.

    There are increasing fears that relocation costs are spiralling and July’s report to the cabinet on the relocation project hinted that the emphasis had shifted from a “cost neutral” scheme, to an aim for a “nil cost on the district’s council tax”, which is not quite the same thing.

    The office relocation working party meetings have all been held behind closed doors.  Recommendations from July’s report to cabinet mean that a new group is to be established to oversee the project, which involves “selected cabinet members (all conservative), senior officers and the project manager.”

    It appears that this group will also be held behind closed doors.

    The recommendations to July’s cabinet states that “wider engagement with members will be sought through a leader’s think tank on relocation.”

    Think tanks are also held in private and there appears to be no enforced rule about whether they have minutes and agendas. 

    The report to July’s cabinet, which runs to some 50 pages, is almost entirely devoted to making a case for why the Knowle is “not fit for purpose.”  A few pages at the end of the report gives some non-specific information on project costs… and risks…

    Risks largely appear to be related to either the sale of Heathpark not realising its full value ….. and the need to borrow an unspecified (presumably large) amount of money because of a “potential cashflow shortfall.”

    There are a range of options outlined for borrowing the money including:

    – finance from EDDC reserves
    – use of public borrowing facilites
    – sale of existing sites and acquisition of new offices from a single party
    – forward sale and leaseback of new offices

    The 10-strong members of the cabinet rubber-stamped a further £95,000 (ex VAT) to be spent from the transformation budget, at July’s meeting, to “to fund further services necessary to continue the project and secure the most advantageous development agreement.”

    Although I was aware that the project had submitted some reports to cabinet in part b, I was staggered to find that such a monumental undertaking, with such significant implications and risk has had virtually no public scrutiny. 

    The process has been almost entirely shrouded in secrecy so it is no wonder residents are cynical and sceptical about the promotional leaflets, which they see as propaganda.

    It is why I have made a request under FOI for all the reports and minutes to be published, in a redacted form.

    Here’s the July report to cabinet:  http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/cabinet_agenda_170713_-_public_version.pdf

    And here’s a reminder of what EDDC’s leader said at the beginning of his tenure – http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/all-too-often-we-read-that-eddc-doesnt-listen-decide-consult-do-it-anyway-is-not-my-approach-who-said-it/

    Page 2 of the cabinet report states:  “This is one of the most significant decisions that the council will take since it was first created. The risk analysis within the viability study recognises that this is a project of both necessity and risk.”