Here on Harrogate Borough Council my colleagues and I have been fighting the Conservatives’ plans to spend in the region of £10 million on building brand new offices to house the central administration of the Council. I have launched a petition that you can sign if you agree with us that there are better ways of spending this money. The link to the petition is on the home page of my website.
You can find below an extract from a recent press release that we as a group have sent out that outlines why we disagree with the Conservatives on this and what our plans are to update Council facilities.
The Conservative Group have broadly approved a plan to spend an approximate net capital amount of £10 million (after property disposals) on the new office buildings. They have already commissioned initial work from a range of contractors, costing in the region of £885,000*, before a final “go-ahead” decision is made by the Council in January 2015. If the Conservatives do not go ahead with their plan, this approximate £885,00 would become abortive costs. This would a phenomenal waste of public funding, particularly at a time when some swingeing cuts have just been announced to local bus services, approved by the Conservatives at County Hall.
Cllr Helen Flynn, Shadow Lib Dem Member for Finance and Resources at the Council said, “There are so many reasons why we oppose the scheme– this is simply not just a case of ‘tit for tat’ local politics. But there are three main reasons: first, the unnecessary waste of local taxpayers’ money at a time when we know grants from Government are continuing to fall year on year and we are seemingly hamstrung from raising more locally from council tax, for example, judging by recent events. We would rather spend such capital money as is available now on much needed upgrades to local infrastructure.
“Second, the efficiency savings given as the rationale for this new-build scheme are predicated over a 25-year period. Who knows what the world will look like in 25 years’ time? The private sector, in my experience, would be looking for a real payback on any capital scheme in 4-5 years.
“Third, there is so much financial and structural uncertainty over the future of local government, that making this decision now, prior to the next General Election in 2015, seems slightly reckless. There is a strong chance that there will be a nationwide move to unitary status after 2015, and the cuts to central Government grants to local authorities since 2010 have been giving us strong clues, in my opinion, as to the way things are going.”
The Lib Dem Group has been in favour of using such land as is available at Knapping Mount for affordable housing rather than as a site for shiny new offices. Councillor Philip Broadbank, Leader of the Lib Dem Group, said, “We are crying out for more affordable homes across the district, and Knapping Mount would make a perfect infill site for a good number of affordable homes which would not put too much strain on local infrastructure.”
* The potential abortive costs comprise the following elements: Full Professional Advisory Team (architect, quantity surveyor, planning consultant, mechanical and electrical engineer, etc) and an internal project manager over 2 stages before a final decision is taken in January 2015.