Letter: Council offices - Time for more transparency

Council offices. Knapping Mount.  (1306188AM3)
Council offices. Knapping Mount. (1306188AM3)

In response to the article ‘sale of council office’ (November 12) by Laura Hill, might I point out to CounSwift that council staff have already done an excellent job consolidating, mainly to just two close locations - the council office and Springfield House - about 500 paces away in the HIC complex (a five minute stroll depending on traffic lights).

The Knapping Mount site is already derelict and being demolished and Victoria Park House is empty and up for sale.

The saving of £1 million per year was a dream figure conjured up about three years ago and sadly still touted around by Cabinet members. Most staff savings/retirements have already occurred in the consolidation mainly to two sites and the savings have already been used up primarily by the freezing of council tax in recent years.

Staff have done a remarkable job and are performing well despite the consolidation.The proposed new office complex will not produce any great new cuts or efficiency savings of £1million per year.

The basic figure of £9 million costs is really the necessary loan over perhaps 30 years the council will need and the rate payers fund. As far as one can estimate the actual cost of the council complex is £9 million plus the value of the sale of Scotsdale House, Victoria Park House and Crescent Gardens, all totalling about £8 million and making the cost of the new council complex approximately £15 million.

Add to this the preliminary cost of consultants thought to be about £1million, the hidden removal/consolidation costs to date, plus the cost of refurbishing the eventual empty and difficult to let Springfield House and the £15 million cost is approaching the £20 million mark.

However there is no need to worry, because the total all embracing cost and risks of this extravaganza will never be known.

The council will advocate it to be ‘exempt information’ in reports, deeming it to be ‘commercially confidential’ by senior management.

Yet in reality to most people the ‘office accommodation is not broke’ so why build this costly new complex at a time of acute austerity and more local government cuts advocated in the Chancellor’s Autumn statement?

In December at the next full council meeting might all the councillors have a free vote (no party whip) and consider placing on hold the new construction contract and investigate the cost of remodelling the council office and Springfield House and retaining the staff where they have fitted (using Scotsdale House as a short term location for staff whilst refurbishment takes place).

Negotiate to sell Knapping Mount for much needed private and affordable housing, sell Victoria Park House and eventually Scotsdale House and many advocate all costs will be covered without the need for a £9 million loan over 30 years.

The contractor for the new office complex can be given a negotiated contract for the remodelling of the council office and Springfield House.

It is time for the council, Cabinet and all councillors to adopt the Government’s directive for ‘Transparency, fairness, openness and best value’ in local government, but will they do it?

This is a great opportunity to regenerate the heart of Harrogate but will they have a review/open debate and free vote based on common sense and a common sense logic all but the Cabinet can see?

David Rhodes

Ripley, Harrogate