A committee from Harrogate Borough Council met yesterday evening (7 July 2015) to discuss the proposed plans to move the majority of council staff to a newly built office on the Knapping Mount site.
The meeting, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee is the last meeting before the plans go before a Full Council on 15 July 2015 for a vote.
The Committee was supplemented by the leader of the Council, Richard Cooper, the Chief Executive, Wallace Sampson, along with his heads of legal, IT and finance.
Councillor Richard Cooper is a strong advocate of the option to move to a single site on Knapping Mount. The majority of council staff would be located on that site and it would allow for the sale of Crescent Gardens and Scottsdale House, Victoria Park House. Springfield House would be leased off.
Councillor Cooper opened the meeting and briefly talked through the process that had been followed to date. Cllr Cooper said that a comprehensive consultation had been followed and that 57% of respondents supported the move.
Cllr Helen Flynn was critical of the validity of the consultation but Cllr Cooper assured the group that they had done all that they could to engage with people.
The target response was to the consultation was 1,500, with 800 individuals responding. (It is also worth noting that a poll carried out by the Harrogate Informer had a response of 1,132 with 85% responding that they did not support the new build strategy)
Cllr Harrison said that they had only consulted on options that they felt were viable.
Cllr Cooper stated that there was efficiency savings of £1m per year.
Claimed efficiency savings:
£252K – operating costs (energy, cleaning, waste, security, insurance and rates)
£255K – Savings to ICT (implementation of a thin-client, web-based desktop)
£269K – Staffing costs (streamlined senior management team)
£104.5K – Facilities management
£13.5K – Print equipment replacement
£200K – Maintenance
These figures were challenged by Cllr Flynn who pointed out that the £269K savings in staffing costs had already been made and it was not appropriate to attribute those savings to the office move project.
Cllr Cooper said that the overall cost of the office move would be £8.72m and that gave a payback of 7 years and 4 months.
The Council have said that due to legal constraints, they can not release the likely sale price of the estate that would be sold with this option and can not release the contract value of the design and build contract for the new office. The £8.72m is the amount that needs to be found after the sales of property.
It was noted that there was around 200 council employees that had the option to work from home for part of their working weekand that £85K would be saved with staff not having to move between buildings.
Staff parking was discussed and it was said that controlled parking would be placed around Knapping Mount, but only if it was found necessary. Cllr Cooper said there would be 95 car spaces at Knapping Mount and a further 130 at the HIC, which they believe is adequate.
Cllr Cooper said that the move was important to stop the possibility of reduction in services or an increase in council tax.
Cllr Flynn felt that there was a scarce level of information available and that the Council had not been truthful with the costs. She added that plan B should be evaluated, the option of keeping Crescent Gardens and Springfield house, albeit with modernisation. This would release Knapping Mount land for housing.
Cllr Flynn said that the Council had gone for price over quality. This comment was based upon the tender outcome and recommended tenderer being strongly biased on price. Cllr Harrison became flustered with this statement and addressed the public at the meeting stating that this was not true.
The committee entered a private session behind closed doors for 1.5 hours.
The meeting resumed in a public session and took a vote if the recommendations should be put forward to Cabinet (on 15 July 2015) – this is the recommendation to continue with the sale of Crescent Gardens and go to the single new-build.
The committee voted:
- 6 – in favour
- 4 – against
- 1 – abstained
This is not a final vote, a recommendation to take forward to Full Council.
Cllr Fox abstained and had indicated that he felt the efficiency of the proposed building was far from leading edge and that he had reservations around the projected ICT savings.
Cllr Flynn proposed that the decision was delayed pending further costings on a credible plan B. Cllr Flynn was critical that the Council had not adequately explored the two site option of keeping Crescent Gardens and Springfield House.
Cllr Flynn will table this at Full Cabinet.
The discussion was largely led by the Libdem Councillors asking questions to the Council Officers and office move committee members. It was noticeable that that a number of Conservative remained silent throughout the open sessions of the committee.
Comment from the Editor – Tim Cook
I have listened through the arguments put for and against at this meeting, read through the supporting documents and spoken to numerous people around this move.
From the information available, it is difficult to have confidence that this is a good move for Harrogate. Although there are contractual constraints that Harrogate Borough Council have to work to there is an almost paranoia that information will be leaked.
It is difficult to have confidence in the cost-savings quoted as they don’t come with any supporting information. When cost savings from changes that have already been made (management changes) are also bundled in with the other overall cost savings, it can only decrease your confidence, as does a quoted £85K of expenditure for staff walking between offices.
We need to remember that the Council are there to provide services to the public and there needs to be visible democracy. I don’t believe there is currently that visibility. The Council need to demonstrate that they are being prudent with spend and that isn’t happening.
The possible options have not been reviewed and on that basis, in my view, inappropriate that a decision should made imminently on such a large spend.