29th November 2016 News
On Wednesday 23rd November, the Council’s Resources, Policy and Scrutiny Development Panel met to review a partial ‘call-in’ of a delegated decision by Cllr Tony Clarke to approve a second wave of £300k spend on P&R without it coming before the Cabinet in public. This brings total approved spend to £1.1m, of which only £500k has been brought before the public. The Opposition parties led the call-in and three of our members spoke at the meeting. Here are their speeches.
Sian James statement to Resources Panel 23Nov16.
Risk – I would like you to consider the risk of this project, and the risk of the monies spent so far having to be written off/expensed/reverted.
So if/when the project is terminated – how will this be funded? Where will you find this money – which services are you going to cut to pay for this?
Where public money is being spent at this rate, at risk, we should have faith that there is a governance process within the council to ensure the money is being spent wisely and that there isn’t an unacceptable risk of reversion.
We have asked a local councillor whether she has seen a Risk Register for this project. Her response was that she had to wait weeks to be shown a copy, after chasing. That is a concern. Risk registers are as fundamental as project plans. So given that the topic today is project risk – Panel have you all seen it? Read it? Understood it?
So does this council’s governance process have a robust handle on the likelihood of this project failing to clear key decision points and the council having to revert the money spent so far?
A few possible decision points that this project might not pass….
- The planning inspector’s report – due in Jan?
- being able to pass a decision at Cabinet (perhaps not a high probability!)
- being able to secure ownership of preferred site via purchase or CPO
- meeting planning requirements, being able to demonstrate benefit vs harm
- encountering significant objections from bodies such as the National Trust
- being able to structure a business case so as to release external funding
- Judicial Review……..
Resources panel, you should demand to see
- The detail of the proposed spend, and the justification for why it needs to be spent NOW
- A detailed assessment of the relevant risks associated with this spend and the plan to mitigate them.
- The alternative ways this money could be spent in order to give better value for money and lower risk.
You also need to judge, with expert help, whether the quality of this assessment is valid.
If you don’t really get on top of this detail now, in another few weeks, no doubt another single member decision will add further monies (another 300k?) to the pot at risk, with little transparency as to where it’s going, or the value that it will add.
You have no clarity as to how much more money will be committed before this project gets to its conclusion, not least because the assessments that should have completed already haven’t been, because commercial negotiations appear to be being given priority over proper planning ones.
At some point someone independent will look at the stated aims and objectives for this project and quickly conclude that they will not be met and the project should not proceed. The risk of reversion is real and you underestimate it at your peril.
(No time left)
NB It is for this very reason that it is best practice in the commercial world that Pre-Spend approvals are treated differently to Capital or Revenue Spend. By their very definition they are highly risky with a risk of reversion. This project is NOT approved and is, by definition, RISKY.
Best practice would be for Pre-Spend approvals of 10% (cumulative) of estimated Capital Spend to go to ultimate approving body.
Christine Boyd Statement to Resources scrutiny 23.11.2016
I am going to say something that is quite shocking.
This council has now spent 800k on a P&R to the east and is proposing to spend 300k more when there has never been a formal council decision to approve this project.
That’s right, there has never been a formal decision to have a park and ride to the east of Bath.
In 2014 council adopted the getting around Bath transport strategy, but that strategy did not commit the council to having another P&R it required the council to
Identify need for increased park and ride capacity and to do a detailed assessment of sites through the placemaking plan as part of a wider parking strategy
I have circulated a paper setting out all other instances where P&R has been considered by a decision making body of this council.
- Cabinet in May 2015 made a decision to consult.
- Council in November 2014 NOTED an officer report about P&R, asked the LDF Panel to reconsider sites and asked the CTE scrutiny panel to examine transport solutions to the east of Bath.
- Cabinet on the 4th May 2016 NOTED the LDF and scrutiny reports
None of these bodies actually approved a P&R to the east, nor did they consider or approve a report that identified need for increased P&R.
Nevertheless, financial decisions have been made to spend more than £1.1m
Cllr Clarke and Cllr Gerrish have now approved a 600K spend. Presumably the upper limit for a delegated financial decision is 300k
It is not acceptable to go on drawing down 300k tranches with no decision, no evidence of need, no visible progress and no scrutiny of how money is being spent
It was legitimate to spend money on evidencing need, but in the absence of an approved report setting out that need, it was highly dubious to move on to site selection, less alone procurement, and planning.
You must now urge Cabinet to take back control from Cllr Clarke, demand a full report setting out:
- The aims of the project
- The benefit of the project
- The evidence of need for the project
- The demand for additional park and ride in the short, medium and long term
This should be supported by a fully costed business case.
Only when this report is approved and a formal decision made to have a P&R to the east will the council be in a position to see the risks associated with this project and make a proper assessment of whether further funds should be spent.
Finally I have circulated extracts from the September 2015 consultation leaflet to remind you of the benefits that were supposed to come from P&R. The council now admits that none of the Environmental aims can be met. That alone is a reason to stop and demand that officers justify this project before more money is wasted.
Annie Kilvington’s Speech for Scrutiny Panel 23 November 2016
In order to make an informed recommendation to cabinet on whether to proceed with an East of Bath P&R and if so on which Site, the Council needs to spend some money. The question is “on what”.
Expenditure designed to determine whether the project is needed, and if so, how to deliver so that public benefit will clearly outweigh harm is legitimate in shaping recommendations to Cabinet. Expenditure to progress commercial negotiations on individual sites is not. This would be to put the cart before the horse.
So, examples of appropriate spend might be:
- Proper investigation of travel patterns and need
- An options appraisal that concludes that park and ride best meets this need
- A robust weighing of planning considerations including heritage and environmental impact in order to exclude sites where the benefit will clearly not outweigh harm.
Examples of inappropriate expenditure would be sums spent on negotiating and securing financial options with landowners of potential sites. Remember that Cabinet has (quite rightly) yet to take a decision to proceed with a Park & Ride to the East. Yet, if I read it correctly, this delegated decision permits council officers to enter into a contracts, for value (so money will change hands), which will commit the council at some time in the future to buy for a price, fixed now, but both undisclosed and unapproved, one or more parcels of land should planning permission be granted. It is astonishing that the delegated decision process can be abused in this way.
So far £600,000 – two tranches of a neat £300k a time (presumably the limit of Mr Clarke’s discretionary spend), has been drawn down under cover of the delegated process. We know some of this has been spent on a sequence of transport modelling reports, by different firms, which have concluded that congestion and pollution, the cornerstone of the consultation aims of the project, will remain undiminished by the proposal. But none of this 600k has been spent on a proper Heritage Impact Assessment of any site, despite being told by Heritage England in September 2015 that the criteria based strategy in the draft Placemaking Plan meant that a robust assessment was required at this stage, and that existing 2013 Halcrow settings assessments were inadequate.
So a further delegated decision, no doubt for a further neat £300k is doubtless will on its way, to pay fund work which should have been done but for which there is no money because spent large sums have been spent pursuing a commercial agenda before ensuring it has a deliverable project. And all in secret, with the detail unknown to Cabinet, let alone the public. So please, Scrutiny panel, call for full transparency in this spend and an explanation as to why the cart is before the horse.
We then also issued a press release afterwards as follows:
B&NES Cabinet under fire for spending on Park & Ride consultants
Campaigners against a Park & Ride to the east of Bath have added their voice to opposition concerns about a Cabinet decision to spend a further £300,000 on consultant fees for the controversial plan.
A request by Cllrs Anthony Clarke and Charles Gerrish for a further £300K for more ‘study work’ on the proposed Park & Ride was approved on 31st October. Opposition parties on the council have requested a ‘call-in’ of the decision but this has been rejected by council officials.
Local businessman, Andrew Mercer, who has studied the background documents on behalf of the Bathampton Meadows Alliance, has also raised questions about why just under half of that money, £142K, appeared to have been spent within three weeks of the request for extra money being approved.
Mr Mercer, a former accountant, who attended the meeting last week (23rd November) of the Resources scrutiny panel to discuss the issue, expressed surprise that the council had been unable to answer a question by Liberal Democrat Cllr Andrew Furse about when this money had been spent. Cllr Furse has also requested a detailed break-down of the total spending on the P&R proposal dating back to 2008.
The council has so far spent £941,936 on the project since 2014.
Mr Mercer said: “We are concerned about a lack of transparency about how this money has been spent.”
Mr Mercer went on: “There is a risk that any capital spend will revert back to revenue and will have to be found from this year’s budget if the project does not go ahead. But if the spend is categorized as ‘study work’, rather than as money for appointing land agents for example to negotiate site acquisitions, as was stated in the delegated report (which sought permission to release this money), then it can be offset against other projects in the area such as the A36/A46 link road, or the newly proposed Freight Consolidation Centre.”
B&NES Chief Executive, Ashley Ayres and the council’s Monitoring Officer, Maria Lucas rejected a call-in request by Labour and Liberal Democrat councilors of the funding decision. The Resources Policy Development and Scrutiny panel were restricted to discussing two questions, on risk and on process, rather than being allowed to scrutinize the funding decision itself.
Notes to Editor: Labour say they are taking legal advice and hope to challenge this decision.
From this chronicle story – http://www.bathchronicle.co.uk/park-and-ride-call-in/story-29906757-detail/story.html
Mr Warren said: “The decision on whether or not a call-in is valid under the constitution is solely a matter for the council’s chief legal officer and chief executive, there is absolutely no involvement by politicians whatsoever.”
“I am always happy for the cabinet’s decisions to be scrutinised, as this is both part of our democracy and good for council decision-making. I have therefore suggested that, with the agreement of the Panel Chair, this matter be added to the agenda of the next meeting of the cross-party Resources Scrutiny Panel so that councillors can consider this decision and ask any questions they feel necessary.”
Issued on behalf of the Bathampton Meadows Alliance
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