In January 2014 there was a review of a New Leisure Centre at Princes Parade, undertaken by Strategic Leisure Limited, for and on behalf of our Council.
In May 2014, the Council’s Cabinet were informed by the review document
‘The indicative cost of the original leisure centre that was designed and developed for the Princes Parade site is £11,955,000. This included the cost of two movable floors in the swimming pools. The budget now available is around £6m.‘
Former district Cllr, Russell Tillson, at the same Cabinet meeting on the 28.5.14, challenged some of the aspects of costs relating to Princes Parade.
These costs have now risen to £45.3m, over eight years. This is after we previously reported in Nov 21, there were supply chain issues, construction industry cost increases and inflation pressures, among other things.
The price of the project in Jan 2014, was £11,995,000, it fell to £6m in 2014, then rose to £29m by 2021, and now sits at £45.3m, as of Jan 2022.
So the lowest cost was £6m. It now stands at £45.3m. That’s a staggering 655% cost increase.
‘calculated the cost of the entire project as £67million – with the residual value of the land as being minus £7.6million.’ .
If SPPG’s claim turns out to become reality, costs will have risen by a whooping 1,027%, from the original £6m in 2014.
The claims made then don’t seem so outlandish now.
Can one truly say the Council led, and BAM built, Princes Parade project is Value for Money (VfM)?
The term VfM is used widely among council officer decision makers, but its meaning varies just as widely depending on the user. Often it is simply used interchangeably with ‘efficiency’ – best use of inputs to get the maximum output.
However, the definition of VfM is much broader in both national and international frameworks. The National Audit Office (NAO) describes VfM as “the optimal use of resources to achieve intended outcomes”. The NAO outlines four core criteria against which VfM is assessed -the 4Es:
economy, efficiency, effectiveness and equity.
The extent to which a VfM assessment covers all four criteria depends on the context of the programme. It might be that an assessment of efficiency is more relevant if accurate information on outcomes is not available. However, the equity consideration is often neglected
Does the Princes Parade Project fulfill all, or any of the 4Es, given costs have risen 655% in eight years?
KNOW YOU RIGHTS
As a local resident within the Folkestone & Hythe District you have legal rights to inspect, ask questions about and challenge items in your local council’s accounts.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (the Act) governs the work of auditors appointed to authorities and other local public bodies. The Act the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 and the Local Audit (Public Access to Documents) Act 2017 also cover the duties, responsibilities and rights of local authorities, other organisations and the public concerning the accounts being audited.
For 30 working days in the year anybody who lives within the district is entitled to look at how the council spends taxpayers money. Section 26 of the Act gives any elector the right to:
(a) inspect the accounting records for the financial year to which the audit relates and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, receipts and other documents relating to those records, and
(b) make copies of all or any part of those records or documents.”
Councils are obliged to advertise when the audit period is on their website and in the local papers. However, for obvious reasons councils tend to slip the advert out without any fanfare, so keep an eye out. The audit period is normally in June or July, but can be later.
The Peoples Audit produce template request letters/emails which can be accessed ⇒ here.
She makes it clear, ‘a successful armchair auditor most important quality to have is an instinct for misinformation, and a deep seated suspicion of the way in which local authorities operate. Always assume the worst: you will almost always be right.‘
Requesting to inspect information relating to the 655% cost increase of the Princes Parade, is your right, if you so choose to use it. to be clear, all requests must pertain to the year of inspection, so that will be 2021/22. One cannot request information for prior years, this must be done by FoI or EiR.
Under Section 20(1)(c) of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, Grant Thornton – the Council External Auditor has to ensure the Council has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources – note the absence of ‘equity’.
Any group, if so minded, could use their rights to inspect the accounts and information relating to the costs of Princes Parade, Otterpool Park, Oportunitas or Mountfiled Rd, New Romney. Of course, any such attempt to discover the cost increases for Princes Parade would need to be co-ordinated, and planned.
Inspection Rights can be digital, or in person at The Civic Centre. Now all you’ve got to do is wait for the notice saying the inspection period is open to the public.
A VfM report such as the one issued by the Council’s auditor, Grant Thorntion, regading East Kent Housing, would not be a pyrrhic victory – a success that comes with great losses or unacceptable costs – as it would affirm the Council are not good at development and will lead to great or unacceptable loses, economical and environmental.
We strongly suspect costs will rise yet further for Princes Parade, and all other projects within the district, given the current Govt’s economic forecasts and the future state of the economy.
The Shepway Vox Team
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