Saturday, 15 February 2014

Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark: £1 million

There has been a lot of comment on the District Council's proposed move from Knowle, Sidmouth, to Skypark, the industrial park on the outskirts of Exeter Airport:
Skypark choice for office relocation….the media take up the story | East Devon Alliance
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark: reports
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark... further comment
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark... and Flooding in the West Country...

There have been objections to the principle of allocating substantial resources:
East Devon campaign group criticises district council relocation proposals - again | Exeter Express and Echo

There have also been objections about the lack of transparency surrounding the process of coming to such decisions:
Cabinet and secrecy – next meeting 5 February 2014, 5.30 pm, Knowle | Sidmouth Independent News

It has now been revealed from the minutes of the District Council cabinet meeting of 5th February
exactly how much will have to be set aside for the plot.

And all of this came to a head on BBC Radio Devon on Thursday morning earlier this week 
- in interviews with Independent Councillor Claire Wright and District Council Leader Councillor Paul Diviani:
▶ BBC Radio Devon - Good Morning Devon, 13/02/2014
Skypark suits Mr Diviani much better than Sidmouth for his commute from the Blackdown Hills – so that’s OK | Sidmouth Independent News
EDDC Leader “not fit for purpose”? | Sidmouth Independent News

From the Herald this week:

Skypark site to cost EDDC £1million

Stefan Gordon Monday, February 10, 2014

Buyers to be sought for Sidmouth’s Knowle

EAST Devon District Council (EDDC) will have to fork out nearly £1million to buy the land at Skypark it has earmarked as its new home.

Minutes of behind-closed-doors talks by the authority’s cabinet have been published today (Monday).

They also reveal that ‘immediate action’ in order for ‘a marketing exercise’ to be conducted to ‘engage developer interest’ in Knowle and Mantone Depot sites to ascertain their value.

Page 116 of the minutes of last Wednesday’s talks show that acquisition costs of the council’s preferred site at Skypark are £986,000 excluding VAT.

Skypark site to cost EDDC £1million - News - Sidmouth Herald

From the Western Morning News
and Express & Echo:

Council bid for new £1million Skpark slot in office move plans

By Western Morning News | Posted: February 11, 2014

A Devon district council which drew ridicule for its four failed attempts to engineer an office move now wants to buy a £1million plot at the new Exeter Skypark.

East Devon District Council last year failed to persuade its own planning committee to support a plan to relocate from the Knowle, in Sidmouth, to a new headquarters.

Now the Tory authority, which stands accused of wasting £800,000 on reports and consultants on the issue, wants to build a new base at the industrial park close to the M5 motorway. Cabinet members backed the Skypark site out of a short list of four options at a meeting last Wednesday and the decision, will now be put forward as the preferred location to full council this month. If approved, officers will be asked to carry out further research into the move and make steps to sell off its current base at Knowle, in Sidmouth.

The preferred site was selected after the council shortlisted four from 15 possible sites, including Cranbrook town centre, two sites on Heathpark in Honiton and Clyst House at Winslade Park.

Council officers and councillors have described maintaining the current offices as a “struggle” and dubbed them “oversized and inefficient”. On the back of various surveys and assessments, deputy chief executive Richard Cohen said the council would save tens of thousands of pounds a year if its offices moved from the ageing premises at Knowle into a newer building.

The cost of the land was revealed in minutes released on Monday and has been countered with a motion to defer a decision, which is due at a council meeting on February 26.

Critics of the move, which was first proposed more than two years ago, are concerned that costs of the project are “spiralling” at a time when local government is being forced to make deep budget cuts to important services. Campaign groups have branded the process “flawed” and do not believe the move will be as cost-effective as the council claims. They also fear the impact on Sidmouth’s economy.

Independent district councillor Claire Wright said the “multitude” of reports commissioned on the moving process, has cost the council “in the region of an eye-watering £800,000”. Mrs Wright has submitted a motion to the full council meeting on February 26 to defer a decision to allow an independent assessment of the state of the Knowle buildings. She says the council now faces a budget gap of £3.973 million over the next five years but plans a “whopping £400,000” on office move costs over the next four years. “I very much hope that the decision on whether to move to Skypark will be delayed, out of respect for a statutory process that is designed to identify and act on issues of public concern,” she added.

Council bid for new £1million Skpark slot in office move plans | Western Morning News 
East Devon campaign group criticises district council relocation proposals - again | Exeter Express and Echo

From the East Devon Alliance:


February 9th, 2014

The East Devon Alliance has today sent out this press release:

Local residents, EDDC’s own watchdog committee, and own staff defied

The Cabinet of the East Devon District Council has selected Skypark as its preferred site for its headquarters. If the decision is approved by the full Council on 26th February, officers would carry out further research into the viability of the move. Marketing of the Knowle would begin “promptly”. A final decision would be taken in the summer. No financial details of the proposed move were announced to justify the decision to leave the Knowle in favour of a site which, currently, has poor transport links and certainly does not fit the Council’s claims that its District headquarters should be somewhere more central than Sidmouth.

The East Devon Alliance deplores this choice, and EDDC’s undemocratic insistence on a project which has no clear financial justification. As Head of the Relocation Team, Richard Cohen , admitted to the Council’s own Scrutiny Committee recently, he has not asked the Head of Finance for “a full breakdown of the costs”. And yet, in addition to the substantial expenses already incurred (well over £350,000), the Council plans to set aside a further £400,000 of tax payers’ money over the next two years, just for preparations.

EDA Chairman Ian McKintosh says, “Economically, this is not the time to rush ahead with a massive spending of public funds, on a move that is widely regarded as imprudent.” Coherent arguments in favour of retaining the Knowle have been ridiculed by the Leadership, without serious debate. Sidmouth resident Robin Fuller’s detailed suggestions for refurbishment of the existing purpose-built buildings, and possible sale or conversion of the historic former hotel, were patronisingly dismissed by Councillor Diviani in just two words, as “Fuller’s Folly?”.

Astonishingly, local voters are not the only people who have been ignored. EDDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) agreed last week that Councillors had not been properly informed of the cost calculations, resulting in serious reservations about the financial viability and even the necessity for office relocation. The OSC therefore voted that the Cabinet be asked to provide more precise details in order that Councillors could “make an informed decision” . The same committee also recommended that an independent survey of the Knowle buildings, particularly of the 1970’s offices, should be undertaken. No mention of this was made in EDDC’s announcement.

EDDC’s determination to move, whatever the evidence and the wishes of those who fund the Council, is confirmed in that they have also ignored their own staff. EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams recently issued the results of a survey of EDDC employees, who were asked for their preferred location, other than the Knowle. Of the four sites named, Skypark was least favoured. Not for the first time, EDDC’s, mathematical abilities were challenged. The total of all the percentages for each location came to 149 per cent! ‘

EDA deplores EDDC’s Skypark choice, as costs spiral in the office relocation fiasco. | East Devon Alliance
Skypark choice ..another costly error by EDDC? | East Devon Alliance

Indeed, the choice of Skypark was not the topmost for members of staff:

Skypark was actually considered rather unattractive by the District Council some months earlier:

Inadequate public transport links being a factor:
Astounding figures re Knowle relocation | Sidmouth Independent News

In fact, the proposed move to Skypark has pleased almost no one, with a Honiton Councillor claiming that the District Council has 'sold out' by not choosing Honiton  for its new headquarters, thus opening the now-rejected Honiton site for development as another supermarket:

Lastly, a comment on the Sidmouth Independent News blog:

“Neutral cost” relocation

1st February

We must not lose sight of the fact that “neutral cost relocation” with a loan of nearly £4 million AND pre-move costs coming up to the £1 million mark can only be achieved by cutting staff and/or cutting services otherwise known as “efficiency savings”.

EDDC is in the almost unique position of having GAINED staff in recent years leaving only service cuts to fund this project. Cutting funds for the homeless can only be the start.


Paul Hayward February 1, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

Week in, week out, we all read in the press how Barclays, BT, M&S, Zeneca etc etc, are cutting staff numbers as technology and economies of scale and efficiencies are brought to light and implemented. Whilst I wish no-one to be made redundant unnecessarily, having worked exclusively in the private sector, I know only too well that when you run a business as a business ie you have to make a profit to survive and are not in receipt of tax payer largesse, you look at every dept, every sector, every job and ask:

Could that person work harder, do more in a day, work more efficiently, work harder for the same pay; Could those 4 people do the work of 5 without too much difficulty for example.

You look for duplication of labour, cross-over skill sets, slow-time gaps, start finish time diminishments, extended break times, above-average sickness levels, geographic anomolies etc etc and all this allows a trading business ( that must spend less than it takes in revenue to survive ) to determine whether all those staff are performing at their optimal level, giving 100% each and every day, and that there is not any element of “flexible resourcing”, “allowable downtime” and “built-in tolerances” etc

These are questions that every profitable business asks itself and number crunches on every single day to make sure that the business can survive in the future, for the benefit of the many who will retain their jobs and income. A private sector business is not there to provide employment in the local community and a cosy, easy working environment – it is there to provide a profit for its stakeholders.

Well, I am a EDDC stakeholder as I pay council tax and I hope that ( at a time when services are starting to be looked at, with consideration to service reductions) every member of staff has been appraised rigorously, from the highest to the lowest paid, their output measured against a benchmarked standard, equivalent to that of a private sector twin, and that the Executive body have looked in every nook and cranny to see what is being spent, when it is spent, how is it spent, where it is spent, why is it spent and could we get more bang for our buck.

This is how we roll in the private sector, and I would expect no less from the “business” of serving the public. Note I say “serving” not “governing” or “controlling” or ” leading”.

The sooner that all public servants realise that they are in that position at the behest of the public at large and that their only purpose is to serve their needs, wishes and aspirations, the better. The public are not a nuisance to be hushed, to be treated with disdain and arrogance, to be brow-beaten and insulted by clever speeches, and press releases, and half-hearted promises. The public are the reason, the only reason, that government, large and small, exists..

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln made a speech that recognised the sacrifice made by thousands of Americans during the Civil War. I have been fortunate enough to visit Gettysburg, and stand at the site of that speech, and to stand on that Battlefield where so many died so that Freedom would exist for those that survived.

The speech ended with this quote:

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

This is why you should work in the public sector, either as a member of staff, or as an elected councillor. The People. If that doesn't fit with your mind set, work in the private sector where you are judged on results. Period.

“Neutral cost” relocation | Sidmouth Independent News

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