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Blistering Critique on Council's New Lodge Performance-Hertsad 2nd December 2010.

posted 5 Dec 2010, 06:32 by David Gilroy
Our own PoolTooSmall expert Vanessa Gregory minces no words as she hands down judgement on a Council that is not listening.
SIR,Talk to the hand coz the face ain't listening, seems to be the only way left to describe the behaviour of the district council’s cabinet and officers advising them, on Westminster Lodge, Bricket Wood leisure centres and interlinking matters. As amply demonstrated by the CEOs letter printed last week; there isn’t anyone in, or advising the cabinet, capable of financially managing a project of this size or complexity, not to mention the soundness of the facility mix.   When using consultants the council must have internal capability to interpret or intelligently challenge the advice.  Patently they do not! Bureaucrats have lived too long in a world where the taxpayer will pick up the tab for their inadequacies; like the cabinet, SADC officers lack management skills, business acumen or understanding of international markets or economies in which they have been dabbling. Vetting a company for such a project must be more than a ‘tick box’ exercise.  

Yet the cabinet continue to behave like recalcitrant teenagers determined to have their way no matter the cost. Let’s have a look at their ‘awesome and wicked’ achievements so far!   

  1. The lease issue on Bricket Wood.  We have not been allowed to use the centre since the end of February 2010; however now we know, since November 2009 to date it has cost us over £840,000, just to fulfil some of the requirements of the lease.  How much longer will we have to shell out such sums to HSBC?  How much more will it cost us to exit the lease which has a full repairing element?  
  2. The final reports on two archaeology digs, required to be carried out by planning legislation prior to commencement of works.  These were due to be published on 6th September and 4th October 2010 respectively.  However one, on the important trench 11 has still not been published.  Reason?   Officers have reviewed the documents and fed back factual and/or textual inaccuracies.”  Will this be St Albans “dodgy dossier”?
  3. A business plan for Westminster Lodge, which relies heavily on income from an already local highly competitive market. This will probably result in some competitors being put out of business. 
  4. The current value of the ‘enabling’ land and property must now be lower than originally envisaged, therefore will contribute less to the schemes cost.
  5. Ridgeview, part of the ‘enabling’ sale; this was emptied unceremoniously of its residents, SADC then gave Hertfordshire university a short term lease for student accommodation.   What is the situation now?  A persistent councillor asks questions in public session but only receives answers in secret session.  
  6. This cabinet have so far employed £1.5m worth of consultants on Westminster Lodge.  This sum they have already borrowed on a 25 year loan.
  7. The appalling way The Abbey Theatre has been treated and as far as we know the land issue, even at this stage is still unresolved. How much will that cost us, let alone in legal fees?
  8. McNamara, the Irish construction company, known to have problems as far back as January 2010.  Who put in “an extremely competitive tender”, I bet they did!  Who had two financial checks carried out by the council’s consultant before the report to cabinet to recommend this company’s tender.  Apparently officers concluded; “Neither of these checks raised any financial concerns that officers felt should be brought to Cabinet’s attention before or at the Cabinet meeting of November 2”.  Who is next on the list, to be chosen at the December cabinet meeting, a Portuguese company?   
  9. Finally, the cost of local government borrowing was raised a month ago by 1% and the council’s government grant will be cut every year for the next four years.  

 Many people here, even in “recession resilient St Albans”, face hard choices in their family budgets in the coming few years.  Some, this Christmas wonder if they will have a job in the New Year.   We hear 25% of council staff will lose their jobs, although those who remain in the top jobs have ensured it will not be them! 


However, as with the insolence and inexperience of youth are the cabinet “bovvered”? Talk to their hands, coz their faces are still not listening! 


VANESSA GREGORY Tennyson Road, St.Albans