Monday, 5 August 2013

Knowle relocation: stakeholder event.......................... District Council view: FAQs

The District Council has posted answers to questions posed at its stakeholder event on 26th July. This is just a sample:

Stakeholder Engagement Event 26 July 2013

Which of Honiton or Cranbrook is more central to people coming to visit the offices?
We shouldn’t get too focused on the geographic location of any new office because a) it isn’t decided yet and b) many customers deal with us online or by phone and many of our staff are already available across the district such as benefits, planning and Streetscene staff. However, we do need to keep in mind that the large bulk of the population of the district are in the Western half.
Costs appear to be the driver for this project. How confident are you that the 20% contingency you have put aside will be enough to manage any overruns?
As we have made clear, keeping costs down for the District is a priority for the Council and office relocation is a part of that. We have taken professional advice and have visited other public sector and private organisations who’ve undertaken such moves to gain from their experience and they have all said that contingency is a normal and sensible practice. If you do the proper management and preparation upfront then you manage costs better in the long run. This means for instance being clear about your design, commitment to it and don’t keep changing it. We feel confident that if properly planned and managed the contingency should be more than adequate.
Did you consider the refurbishment of the more recent office block of the Knowle offices and demolition of the Victorian element for housing?
Yes, we did fully consider that option. The space available in the office extension blocks built in the 1970s and 1980s is insufficient to house all the staff, the mixed site approach is unlikely to be attractive to a developer and even these so called modern offices would require considerable sums to bring them up to scratch. Financially it doesn’t work.
In your office accommodation cost calculations did you include rental, interest and borrowing costs?
Yes. Purchase, rental and borrowing costs are all factored in.
Are these costs publicly available?
Not yet as they include commercially sensitive information. However we would like to publish at a time when the information is no longer sensitive. Just as we have done for the sale of Elizabeth Hall: once the figures were no longer deemed commercially sensitive we published them.
You identified a figure of £4.5 million figure is that the economic impact on Sidmouth?
No, that figure is not the economic impact on Sidmouth. We are estimating that there will be a £4.8million saving on annual running costs by moving to a new purpose built office of the appropriate size over a 20 year period, as compared to staying at the Knowle.
What is the estimated Capital Cost of a new build office?
It is not possible to be exact and any figures should be treated with caution. However, as a ball park figure something in the region of £6 - 8 million is not unreasonable, depending whether it is constructed to a BREEAM Very Good or Excellent Standard.
If you chose the Cranbrook site for instance you would be providing a huge economic boost to the new town and providing additional employment for its 3,000 residents. This would help attract a range of other businesses which would then in turn produce more business rates and make your financial model even stronger.
Again, this is correct with regard to additional benefits but we have deliberately taken a conservative view on the financing.
Has the Council decided which stakeholders and issues have more weight, for instance what is the business driver for this decision saving money for taxpayers, better working conditions for staff or the wider economic benefit such as providing real help to small businesses?
We have tried to keep all our stakeholders in mind and we see this as a district wide issue. We would support further understanding of the economic impact on the location that we choose.
Please can you clarify the financial points as I can’t see how you get to the payback model? How is it cost effective to spend £6-8 million to save £189,000 a year?
We estimate £6 -8 million for a new build. We would have to pay £1.56 million just to do essential repairs to Knowle such as stopping the roof leaking. Bringing all the existing offices up to modern day standards would be in the region of £15 million and even part of the buildings would be many million. The capital receipt we would receive for part of the site would not even start to cover this.
This is a gamble and there are risks which you have outlined. It is only two years since district elections and there was no manifesto commitment to do this. Should this not be put to the test with the electorate in two years time? You have no democratic justification for this decision to be made.
At the outset I [Council Leader Paul Diviani] alluded to the economic situation and we are all aware of the severe cuts to local government finances which are still to come which total millions of pounds. What was in our manifesto was a commitment to keeping council tax low and we are delivering on that promise.
We have a representative democracy where you have elected councillors to act on your behalf in the best interests of the district. The Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of moving and Full Council had a clear majority in favour. We need to start looking to the future and getting on with it.
I cannot stand here knowing that inaction is wasting taxpayers’ money in a building not fit for purpose. The die is cast. Full Council on Wednesday 24 July 2013 made the decision to move. Now we are looking to the future. I am confident that our desire to work with stakeholders will see a positive solution.
What is the purpose of having a new HQ?
We need to modernise the way we work and keep to our commitment of keeping the council tax low.
What is the long term viability of the project, we would not want to see the Council swap a capital asset (Knowle) for a long term liability?
We would not have an ongoing revenue cost such as rental because we would be buying and owning the freehold and new asset outright.
What will you do to mitigate the negative economic impact on Sidmouth?
We recognise that there will inevitably be an economic loss to Sidmouth. We will work with Sidmouth Town Council to look at the best ways to mitigate the impact of the Council leaving the town.
While finance appears to be the key driver we would like to see more social and democratic involvement. Would you consider more information and involvement as early as possible in the process?
Yes we want to understand how best to keep people informed and engaged with the process.
We would like to see a clear analysis of the pros and cons of each of the options for a new HQ that is being explored and the opportunity for stakeholder to input into this process?
Evaluation and comparison of different options will be an important part of the next phase of the project.
What measures will EDDC undertake to make sure they take public opinion with them on this move to make sure it is successful, you need to engage with people not just inform?
We want to put as much information out there as possible and also for our Councillors to play their part in communication. We will run future stakeholder engagement to outline our progress.
Summing up Comment: Many people wanted to make the point that this is not all about Sidmouth it is about what is the best solution for the whole district.
East Devon District Council - Moving and Improving FAQ - Stakeholder

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