COUNTY HALL: Questions unanswered

An open letter to the Chief Executive of Northumberland County Council (abridged).

During the consideration of the Ernst and Young (EY) report on the £40million new County Hall in Ashington, I was prevented from making comment. This brings me to write to you again to question some of the assumptions behind this monumental waste of money.

I did not agree with the very limited scope of the report as it was far from full and comprehensive, but it was instructive.

EY found a lack of a formal comprehensive business case, which would be normal for such a large project. As the decision to move to Ashington was made in April 2014, no appraisal of the most appropriate location had been done. The auditors were able to confirm that “any type of HR costs have not been included”, and that there was no defined plan for the use of the current County Hall site.

There were serious doubts expressed by myself with regard to the claimed £12.98million revenue saving figure, and it was admitted that working papers were not to be made generally available.

So, after such a limited audit report, there are still many fundamental questions.

Is the figure used for “no change” a rebuild, rather than a simple refurbishment? What are the real relocation costs, including all HR considerations? Can we have the detail of the claimed £12.98million revenue savings from consolidating offices, and are these savings not applicable even with the “no change” situation?

The council has agreed to spend a further £7.5million on a new road layout in Ashington. Should this not be added to the £40million capital budget for the building? After years of deep mining, has a ground condition survey been carried out and allowance made for the costs of piling?

If only 528 car parking spaces are going to be available for 1,300 staff, has the council done a full traffic impact assessment?

Until all factors have been properly evaluated and included in the figures in a fair and balanced way, the true cost of this project will never be known.

Coun Peter Jackson

leader, Northumberland Conservatives