Councillor John Fenty’s full speech on the state of the Council.

Councillor John Fenty’s full speech on the state of the Council regarding its ability to manage and dispose of local assets.

In this damning insight to into the short the short comings of this administration and its officers he also asks the questions about closed meetings and the benefit of keeping things from the public, is he right to ask this?


21 March 2019 NELC Full Council – agenda item 11

Madam Mayor.

It is with great concern and disappointment that I feel compelled to propose this motion.

I rather hoped that ‘interjections’, ‘concerns raised’, in the past and over many years had been listened too, or the Councils actions rationally justified.

Often, they have not been justified Madam Mayor, so I raised my concerns at the Audit and Governance Committee after asking for exclusion of the press and public.

What followed was a complaint from senior officers to my group leader that I was being political.

If that were remotely the case Madam Mayor I would not have proposed   exclusion of the press and public.

I raised issues that concern me around about what I believe to be policy shortfall, or failure to follow such, and further, Cllr Barfield reinforced the same concerns.

Further Madam Mayor, I had been written to by the chair of Audit and Governance following this closed-door meeting suggesting and alternative course of action. Actions that I had already followed many, many times indeed.

Madam Mayor, I am not being political at all, but often find closed doors to questions raised, or insufficient transparency and shocking management of public assets in m y humble opinion.

To share just some Madam Mayor.

Public Toilet closure was proposed by this administration in 2015, yes madam Mayor, all of them to be closed down. It’s preposterous isn’t it!!!!! Unbelievable, that Labour could propose closure of public toilets in a tourist destination.

When I exposed flaws in the financial spread sheet , which was driving this crazy closure, it was demonstrated that savings could be met, and fortunately, this crazy closure was reversed.

What ensued was the installation of not fit for purpose coin operated paddle-gates, which has resulted in the free use of the facilities for several years and budgeted incomes therefore were entirely lost.

Recently Madam Mayor Cllr Brookes questioned Labours decision to replace the coin-ops for cashless payment card to the access public toilets.

Madam Mayor, in an unfortunate and familiar pattern, this was taken in closed session for which I cannot fathom, why the secrecy, it’s of great public concern, and interest.

Cashless access to the public toilet and out sourcing their management are public domain so why the expulsion of the press and public.

What emanated from that closed meeting, was that principle savings had been met, by outsourcing the management of the public toilet facilities even without charging for the facilities.

So, Madam Mayor, how come, the savings required are so easily met by the private sector? it begs important questions, about this administrations Estates Management.

Madam Mayor I despair, but it is a familiar short coming that this Labour led administration cannot manage its assets.

Take the Fitties chalet park which provided an important source of reoccurring income.

Appalling management of this heritage asset, and failure to secure market value in two missed rent rises, which left the council severely out of pocket by hundreds of thousands annually, so they sold the Fitties Chalet Park for little over £2 million.

The new owners have in place, rent rises of 300% effective at 2021, returning circa £860,000 per annum. That’s pure profit as all other costs incurred in operating the site are collected through service charges, levied separately on tenants.

These are negligent actions in my humble opinion Madam Mayor on an unbelievable scale. This Labour administration should hang its head in shame.

Madam Mayor, I have many such examples that give me serious concerns about future liabilities, for which this council has not answered, or even worse it doesn’t know, or understand.

O’Neill’s pub was sighted as a strategic purchase. Could someone here tonight state just what is the strategy for its acquisition, because, it’s there for all to see, a building that remains boarded up, unoccupied, a blight on the resort, oh and by the way Madam Mayor, the potential returns, stand in the shadow of those achieved from the badly managed Fitties Estate when that was in the Councils ownership.

The Knoll has been pre-let to the Armed Forces for 25 year free of charge subject to internal insurance and repairs only

I have no problem with that.

However, the issue of who picks up the cost of the structure of this listed building will be significant and falls to the Council.

I had a question, at the last but one full council in this regard, relating to the Knoll, and was asked by Cllr Wheatley to put it in writing for a written response. I followed this with a supplementary question to receive an astonishing response which follows.

Dear John,

 I have given you a written response to the question you asked at full council as per the minute taken.

 To request further answers by email on that written response is outside of the constitution of the council.

 I am sure that you are quite aware of that.



Again, refusal to answers to simple questions. Not even to allow a supplementary.

I move on Madam Mayor.

The Wilkin Chapman building, two and a half years on after its completion, we see the under-croft suite of shops ‘Not Let’, and therefore remain unoccupied.

Visit the site, and see the sheer incompetence for yourself, it states ‘To Let’ across the windows. No contact telephone number, nor is there a letting agent appointed, additionally if a tenant had been found, the principle tenant has a veto to disallow them.

Who’s advising on all these things Madam Mayor, where is the legal and professional advice, and most importantly, why are this Labour administration allowing this Council to perform this way.

Madam Mayor, there has been procrastination for too many years, over the construction of a ‘new’ fit for purpose Boarder Inspection Post, a replacement, that is fit for the 21st century, and in the right location.

Checks of food stuff should be carried out in suitable premises, being in the right location, so as not to stymie opportunity for growth, or cause delays in the movement of perishable goods, and adding to unnecessary road congestion.

Nothing has changed Madam Mayor.

This administration has hidden behind ABP for too long. The existing facility is dated, and not fit for purpose, it is a statutory duty, and a new facility should have been delivered before now.

To move on Madam Mayor, Councillors were met with an avalanche of disenchanted business tenants from within the council’s business centres, when, without warning rents rose by 200%.

Again, several rent reviews dates had been missed, which is frankly staggering Madam Mayor.

This Labour lead Council again fail to have a policy for managing its business centres, and worse still, is that mature businesses have enjoyed rent levels intended for start-up businesses.

Aimlessly operating these centres, has created poorly maintained building stock, and will have inevitably put off would be investors in this sector, as competing against such rent levels, were not viable.

Many in the chamber Madam Mayor, will have witnessed the Transfer of assets to community groups and Parish councils, which has often been torturous, protracted and sometimes has taken years, it often defied logic.

Tollbar Roundabout, yes Madam Mayor, the community will not forgive this Labour administration, as they have railroaded against massive public objection, a decision to rip up this roundabout, and to be replaced with a high-speed traffic light junction.

In my humble opinion Madam Mayor, not only is this an offensive waste of public money, it will also heighten the risk of serious injury, and potentially worse, for the 2000 plus children crossings each school day.

Welholme Galleries, a property the Council rented and wilfully neglected, so much so Madam Mayor, that the dilapidation cost, committed the Cabinet to think purchasing the property was the right action. Notwithstanding that their plans are to dispose at less than best value, (a giveaway is most likely), which raises significant questions, of who will fund the dilapidation estimated £2million.

Madam Mayor this Administration ignored repeated warnings, of the dangerous condition, and deterioration of the Victoria Mill for over 10 years, during which time the then owners had assets, which would have compelled them, to meet their obligations, to protect this important listed building, had the Council excised powers available to it then.

Instead Madam Mayor, through failed actions, the Council incurred mammoth costs. Chaos was inflicted on the road network, having to shut down Victoria Street, and decanting residents into alternative accommodation, and installing emergency scaffolding to address the hazards, while it considered a course of action.

Council tax payers again pick up the bill, which has run into millions Madam Mayor, and it doesn’t stop there.

After all this avoidable spending, are this administration rubbing further salt into the wound, by the apparent agreement to acquire another lame duck. Classified as a complimentary strategic purchase which carries enormous risk, for which I’m not at liberty to fully explain, as once again this Council, when it suits, operates veiled policy.

Despite many questions raised, for a clarification of the Cabinets proposals for the Mill, in both private, and public sessions, they are still not answered, and in one such public session, a portfolioholder stated “that’s a matter for the Cabinet, the Cabinet are the decision-making body. Madam Mayor That is not good enough, and particularly when we are being asked to scrutinise what I can only describe as another lame duck acquisition under a veil of secrecy.

Would anyone like to share tonight exactly what are the Cabinets plans for the Mill?? How will it operate, what will be the future costs to the Council?

Madam Mayor, we are elected members, and have absolute right to press and seek assurances, and I make no apology for that. I attend scrutiny with the duty, as bestowed upon me by the electorate, to consider the papers before me, and scrutinise them carefully. Sadly, Madam Mayor questions are often absent candid responses.

Madam Mayor our staff are too very important assets, and not only should we support and nurture them, but importantly hold them to account, which begs the question as the Engie contractual obligations near the end of its contract,

So what’s next Madam Mayor?

I understand significant savings circa £2mill are being asked of them, in managing the Council’s business and rightly so.

I too, understand that the requested savings are being confused with a request from Engie to consider an extension to the contract by a number of years which feels very uncomfortable to me.

I would personally caution against extension, and the reason is very simple. We expect and were promised value for money.

There have been huge changes in local government, so in my humble opinion, the services requested from Engie at onset, are quite different from the service required today, so we either, need a clean break and return it to an inhouse function, or go out to tender as soon as possible to ensure value for money.

So, in that regard if there are efficiencies which can be made, they should made, and should not be confused with Engie’s suggestion of contract extension.

Under Labour control Council debt has risen to over £100 million, and what do we have to show for it?

Madam Mayor I offer this extract of examples, in the hope that members agree with me, that this council undertakes a strategic review, and that scrutiny be requested to establish a select committee, to commission detailed analysis of key assets and commercial estates, to make recommendations back scrutiny and for potential referral to cabinet.

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