Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Knowle relocation project: the Transparency Code and being opaque about Exmouth Town Hall refurbishment

This evening, the issue of lobbying was brought again to the Standards Cttee:
Futures Forum: Transparency and lobbying: District Council to consider report re 'significant lobbying': Tuesday 20th January
Futures Forum: Transparency and lobbying: District Council "agrees with the principle" of "declaring any contact with developers or campaign groups"

The issue of 'scrutiny' has itself been scrutinised:
Futures Forum: Scrutinising the scrutiny committee: Motion before the full District Council: Wednesday 17th December

For some time now, there have been questions about the transparency of the District Council's processes - especially with regard to the relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: Exeter Magistrates Court: Thursday 28th August

... but also on issues around planning:
Futures Forum: Development and transparency at East Devon: "The longer this matter is kept quiet the more we think there is to hide."
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary

And more questions have been made at the WhatDoTheyKnow website:
Transparency of contracts - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

At the Scrutiny Cttee last week, the agenda included a couple of points about 'transparency':

Draft Revenue and Capital Budgets 2015/16
Service objectives for 2015/16 

Finance Service
Section 3 – Looking forward : what we will do in 2015/16
4) Outstanding Council
Revenues and Benefits
We will promote the Tendering portal, Supplying the South West (via ProContract), to streamline supplier tendering, adoption and contract monitoring. We will continue to encourage transparency and openness wherever possible in our business transactions

Organisational Development and Transformation 
Section 3 – Looking forward : what we will do in 2015/16
4) Outstanding Council
Implement provisions of Transparency Code legislation. 

This is the comment from the East Devon Watch blog on the agenda for that meeting - which throws light on not only the promises of greater transparency in general - but on the opaque nature of the partial relocation to Exmouth:


12th January 2015


“If high priority schemes wish to be advanced by members, such as Exmouth Town Hall refurbishment, then consideration could be given to the financial position of not utilising NHB monies to reduce loan repayments for the Exmouth Regeneration schemes and to use this funding on such projects but this will have revenue implications in borrowing costs.”

Our translation: We have spent the relocation money. If you want more then you will have to think about taking it from elsewhere, such as the New Homes Bonus, but if you do, there will be less money for the Exmouth regeneration scheme currently taking that money. (Elsewhere in the document it warns not to get too reliant on doing this as the Government might move the goalposts). Cost neutral, eh?

And it appears that “Implement provisions of Transparency Code legislation” responsibility goes to EDDC employee Terry Wilson to whom we offer our sincere condolences.


Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 14 January 2015 at 10 am Knowle | East Devon Watch

What is interesting is that the minutes do not make any specific reference to the 'Transparency Code'...

On the other hand, there is reference to the Exmouth Town Hall refurbishment - and yet in very vague terms - and that 'some borrowing may also be necessary':

In response to a question about the cost of accelerating refurbishment of the Exmouth Town Hall if relocation to that site (as part of a dual site option) was agreed, it was confirmed that some capital could be used, but some borrowing may also be necessary which would incur costs. This acceleration has only been discussed and not agreed – the implications of it will need to be fully costed. At present there was no allocation in the capital budget to the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall;

Overview and Scrutiny Committee minutes for 14 January 2015 - Draft budget and service plans 2015/16 - East Devon District Council

Is this an attempt to follow the new Transparency Code, or must we wait for April when the "Key Service Objective" to "Implement provisions of Transparency Code legislation" will be complete?
Agenda for Overview & Scrutiny Committee Wednesday, 14 January 2015

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