Twelve Reasons Why The Town Hall Sale Must Be Halted

Posted earlier on the Beeston Updated Facebook Page

.Please share widely.

Today is D-Day folks. The day the Town Hall may be, by consent of elected members of Broxtowe Borough Council, be moved from the public – who built it 82 years ago for us to proudly use in perpertuity, into private hands.

A few things to remember.

1. This was not in any councillor’s manifesto. Not a single one. There are elections in May: if they are confident this is what the people want, let them present the case then and let us decide.

2. The bid process, as has been repeatedly shown, has been flawed the whole way. The bidding system was unequal, opaque (until we leaked it) and bizarre gagging orders were attempted to be imposed on the community bid as a condition of bidding.

3. The church bid was pushed as the best option by an officer who himself was connected to the Evangelical Alliance, the umbrella group of churches that also cover the winning bid.

4. The final oversight of the bid process lies with the the Chief Executive. We have shown her connections to the Evangelical Alliance suggest conflicts of interest. These should have been declared.

5. The Chief Executive’s husband was also shown to be a senior member of a church which was also part of the Evangelical Alliance. Again, this is an undeclared conflict of interest

6. People have claimed that the Evangelical Alliance is somehow a broad church encompassing many different varients of faith. However, the EA threw the Oasis Church group out of its organisation when it showed a more liberal approach to homosexuality. This suggests a rigid system of beliefs that is not compatible with providing truly inclusive community services.

7. The church has stated it would use community usage as a recruitment tool. This again is not compatible with a truly community asset

8. Churches, mosques, temples etc are absolutely fine buying property for their own use on the open market. Their members are free to worship as they choose. That is the beauty of a free, open, secular society. However , this is not the open market, and the decision to give the church the Town Hall can be interpreted as an effective subsidy – our council tax being used to further the church’s aims. The other part of the deal that respects the freedom of religion – that is freedom FROM religion – is not being kept here.

9. As has been detailed by Jim Donaghie, who has vast expertise in the field, as the building houses servers for two Borough councils, secure relocation costs will amount to a huge figure that will leave the money accrued from the sale vastly depleted.

10. There has still been no coherent position on where a new council chamber with public access will be located.

11. There are several legal procedures not fully undertook as part of the process. I am afraid I have been advised to not yet make public what these are, but I have pushed them on to a Beeston councillor.

12. The whole narrative of the town hall has a huge elephant in the room- that is WHY are the council selling a public asset we built for ourselves 82 years ago? The answer is that they have squandered hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees and temporary staff to hide a long-standing scandal entirely of their own making. They have not challenged central government on why Broxtowe receives one of the worst local government settlements in England: to make sure they do not rock the boat and potentially jeopardise their career. Their own personal ambitions have supplanted public service

Tonight we can show them that this will not stand. Until every one of the 12 points above are effectively answered, the sale must not proceed. Their is no mandate.

It is important you show the councillors who they actually work for. They are our servants. It is our Town Hall. We are a strong, diverse inclusive community and we can stop this and restore some faith in local democracy.

Town Hall at 6.45 – entry is (for now) free.

We can do this.

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TOWN HALL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: AN UPDATE

  • Town Hall set to be sold to Evangelical Church tomorrow

  • Further links between Cheif Executive and Evangelical Alliance

  • Call for public inquiry into Town Hall sale.

Our last post calling into question the impartiality of the bidding process for the Town Hall drew a strong reaction, and with that, some bizarre accusations.

One recurring one, which looks very much like a coordinated attack, claims we are ‘anti-Christian’ and are doing this out of spite towards the church.

This is absolutely untrue. As stated before, a secular, liberal democracy works on the principle of freedom of religion coupled with freedom from religion. That is, as a fan of secularism, a principle we live by and allows us to have friends who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi and so on. It is the backbone of a diverse and tolerant society. This concerted attempt to create a false narrative that we are all anti–theists, rather than concerned citizens demanding due-dilligence, is pretty nasty

There is also an argument that perhaps the Broxtowe Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde is only a peripheral figure in her involvement with the Evangelical Alliance, and while she may appear in the newsletter we showed last post, the association ends there.

Well, seemingly not.

Here is the website of Sutton Bonington Baptist Church, which is also under the Evangelical Alliance umbrella.

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It’s listed on the Evangelical Alliance’s own website as a church under its banner

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Who is this chap, mentioned as part of the leadership team?

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It seems that not only is the Chief Executive’s husband a member of an evangelical church, but an elder and part of their leadership team.

Now, of course this might be a different Ruth Hyde mentioned.  But if not, this is another link that surely should have been registered as a conflict of interest. Otherwise the decision-making process, where the buck stops with the Chief Executive, could look compromised.

Another slew of social media comments on our last blog made allegations of ‘brown envelopes’, ‘backhanders’ and suchlike in relation to the whole matter. We categorically DO NOT believe that is the case and still hold on to the belief that most people at the council, including councillors of all parties, are decent people with a love for the community. However, we also believe that to maintain trust in politics all perceived conflicts of interest must be declared.

That is the case we are stating. Let’s hope that’s what the one the council responds to tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

BROXTOWE CHIEF EXECUTIVE CONNECTED TO SAME GROUP OF CHURCHES AS TOWN HALL BIDDER CHURCH.

  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL HAS LINKS TO EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE

  • RELIGIOUS GROUP ALSO CONTAINS REDEEMER CHURCH – WHO WILL BE HANDED TOWN HALL ON WEDNESDAY

  • NO RECORD OF CHIEF EXEC DECLARING CONFLICT OF INTEREST

  • SENIOR OFFICER, PART OF BID EVALUATION, PREVIOUSLY SHOWN TO HAVE LINKS TO EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE

  • BROXTOWE MUST HALT PROCESS IMMEDIATELY; CALL FOR INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY

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The efforts to flog the town hall have long been mired in controversy. It is an unpopular move to save a failing council at a time when their own financial mismanagement has slowly eaten away at reserves. However, the actual tendering process has raised serious questions about the council’s impartiality.

The Beestonian reported months ago on the close relationship between the Council Officer in charge of the sell-off and one of the bidders. That Council officer provided advice to all three bidders and provided a recommendation to the council despite being a member of a sister church in Nottingham, and having attended the missions of the Evangelical Alliance, a homophobic and misogynistic umbrella group that includes the group bidding on the Town Hall.

Whilst further investigating the Evangelical Alliance following last week’s comments from Jim Donaghie the Beestonian came across further evidence of their connections to the council.

We can exclusively reveal a leaflet from December 2015 released by the Evangelical Alliance featuring our very own Council Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde. Hyde appeared to help them pitch their new service to help you become a trustee of Christian Charities both in the UK and abroad suggesting that whilst a relationship may not persist they certainly felt comfortable prominently featuring Hyde in their magazine:

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Was this link declared? As the buck stops at the council with Ruth, if she has not made her link to the recommended bid from the church, then this does not look good.

It should be made clear at this point that the Beestonian has no issue with Christianity. Our problem originates not with the Evangelical Alliance’s religion but with their approach to the LGBT+ community and women. One of our two major contributors, Tom Roberts, is bisexual and has had unpleasant encounters with the Alliance’s teachings. Ultimately Beeston prides itself on being an open and tolerant space and our civic buildings should not be sold on to a group that judges members based on their sexuality.

A tolerant, secular democracy is defined by a simple attitude to faith: there should be freedom OF religion; there should be freedom FROM religion. As the Town Hall is meant to be used for community usage, and the nature of the sale effectively subsidises the church. That’ll be with YOUR council tax.

This follows hot on the heels of the council dismissing one of its senior officers on charges that appear to relate to preferential deals (watch this space). This was the one successful outcome (out of four!) for the council from its year-long investigation into former council officers  (see Beestonia passim)and suggests that the council takes potential misconduct very very seriously. We are sure they will apply this same scrutiny to those involved in the town hall sell-off.

What Can I Do?

We get this asked frequently: people feel powerless. The next elections are in May, by which time the Town Hall will be lost and Broxtowe if the experts at the LGA are correct, will be bankrupt and consumed by Nottinghamshire County Council, and local democracy further eroded. We can not wait. Here is what you CAN do:

  1. On Wednesday (17th October), at 6.45pm, the full council will meet in the very same Town Hall they are looking to sell. This meeting will see the councillors who represent you vote on whether to hand over the building to the church, rather than the strong, viable and truly inclusive community bid put forward at the same time as the Church bid. We want you there, in the public gallery. It’s free because it’s your democracy. At least for now.
  2. Add your name to this letter being put forward by Beeston resident: simply leave your details in the comments on this article, or email me confidentially and we will pass your details onto Ed: mattgoold23@hotmail.com. You can also, if a member of the Beeston Updated Facebook group, ask to be included: https://www.facebook.com/groups/815338891820008/permalink/2112873665399851/
  3. Write to your councillor. THEY work for YOU. Put forward your concerns politely that the sale is flawed and a public, independent inquiry should be put in place before any sale happens. Who is your councillor? Armed with just your postcode, you can find out here, with contact details.
  4. Write to your MP. Yes, we have had our battles with Anna Soubry in the past, and she has been surprisingly taciturn on this issue, but we believe she would not like to see local democracy damaged and community ignored in the way the council are planning. Politely contact her on anna.soubry.mp@parliament.uk.
  5. Don’t lose hope. We have this one last chance to ensure that the much-loved totem of local democracy stays in public ownership. We can do this.

 

 

 

THE TOWN HALL SELL-OFF SCANDAL: JIM DONAGHIE COMMENTS

Jim Donaghie is a community activist committed to keeping the Town Hall in public hands. After last night’s announcement that the building will be recommended to full council to be sold to a church group with some pretty nasty views, he comments here:

Before I start I must declare my interest at this point, I strongly advocate the retention of the town hall for use within the community.
Many of you will be aware that Broxtowe Borough Council, (BCC), are currently looking at the disposal of Beeston Town Hall. The point which has now been reached is that the council are preferring “community” bids as opposed to developer offers. The process has reached the point where two bidders remain, the Beeston Town hall Community, (BTHC) bid and a bid from The Redeemer Church, a “plant” offshoot of the large Cornerstone church situated on Castle Boulevard in Nottingham.
The BTHC bid centres around leasing the Town Hall from the council and running it as a charity run community hub, offering meeting space for local clubs and organisations with the possibility of expanding into other areas of community benefit.
The Redeemer church bid is purely to turn the Town Hall into one of their churches, where they can hold Sunday services and host other church-related group activities through the week.
In the interests of investigating whether both organisations could benefit from use of the town hall, meetings were held between the two groups. The BTHC group was more than happy to offer the church the use of the town hall on Sundays and rooms through the week for their groups, however the church position was that they wanted sole ownership of the building for their own use and therefore a compromise could not be reached.
It has now been announced today, that the recommendations of the BCC officers to the council, is that the Town hall be sold to the Redeemer church.
Whilst I accept I am biased on the subject and this may be seen as sour grapes I’d like to make a couple of points that may not have been obvious or known.
When the church says theirs is a “community” bid, they mean their own community not the wider community of Beeston. On their own website, they declare that the church is a member of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and the Evangelical Alliance. Both of these organisations are strictly against homosexuality and single-sex marriage. They are fiercely Christian organisations. It is the position of both organisations that all pastors and elders within their churches are all male, as they say that is what their scriptures teach.
Suddenly their “community” is getting smaller, don’t apply if you are homosexual, don’t apply if you follow any religion other than evangelical Christianity, and don’t apply if you are a woman, if you have any aspirations of leadership.
Can anyone really say this is a “community” bid in the spirit that I’m sure the council meant?

I would ask anyone that wants the town hall to remain the property of the people of Beeston to contact their local councillors, (details on the BCC website), and tell them what you think and do it now. The full council meeting is on the 17th of October and I would also urge anyone with an interest to attend that meeting to show their support for the property of the people of Beeston, to remain our property.

CLLR OWEN: RESIGN NOW / REDWOOD CRESCENT RESIDENTS IGNORED / REPRIEVE TO KEEP THE TOWN HALL IN THE COMMUNITY / CLLR DODDY TRIES TO OUST SOUBRY/

  • Tory Councillor Philip Owen: helping those suffering domestic abuse is “political correctness gone mad”

  • Councillor Owen ‘Must step down or be sacked’

  • Redwood Crescent residents stonewalled by the council; possible criminal investigation on cards?

  • Town Hall: latest news.

  • Soubz v Cllr Doddy: round one to Soubz

  • Beestonia was right: Borough to be swallowed by County.

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Councillor Philip Owen is no stranger to these pages, having pursued a personal crusade of nastiness during his tenure as a Borough and County Councillor. He has struck again, and we think it’s time for him to step down.

Lisa Clarke, nurse, mother and feminist activist tells us why

This week in an official Nottinghamshire County Council meeting of the Children’s Committee, a meeting where councillors decide how our money is spent on supporting and protecting our children, Chair of the committee Philip Owen publicly stated that the police policy to prioritise domestic violence, modern slavery and hate crime was “political correctness gone mad”.

When questioned later about his comments in a radio interview he went on to state that the police only focus on these matters because it is fashionable to do so. Finally, he added that these issues were not the priority of his constituents who were more concerned with shed break-ins and robberies.

The councillor’s comments have rightly been widely criticised by commentators and attracted local media coverage. Leader of the Labour Group, Alan Rhodes, has asked Philip Owen to “consider his position”, intimating that he should at least resign his chairmanship of the committee in question. But, assuming Councillor Owen does not choose to voluntarily resign, what is the long-term impact for Nottingham County residents?

Already the local radio coverage has largely reduced this to a poor use of language. The concept of “mis-speaking” is a popular get out clause at present for politicians at all levels. In truth, the attitude that this betrays and the consequence of what has been said is both damaging and wide reaching.

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Cllr Philip Owen, alert as ever. Will Kay Cutts and Richard Jackson do the right thing and throw him out the party?


Nottingham has only recently been celebrated as a beacon of good practice in terms of it’s handling of misogyny and hate crime  – an approach so successful it has been proposed that it should be rolled out nationwide. So can Councillor Owen really single-handedly undermine our progressive stance?

Well, for a start, he is being very modest both about the power he wields and his scope of responsibility. As a County Councillor Owen has a far bigger remit than simply representing his own constituency. Every member of a committee contributes to decisions made that affect funding and provision of services for the whole area of Nottinghamshire County. In this case, as chair, Owen is responsible for ensuring that the issues and services most vital to our children and families are discussed, prioritised and adequately resourced and funded. We rely on this man – and the team he chairs – to provide effective care and support for the children in our area.

At the very least Councillor Owen’s words show an alarming lack of knowledge about domestic abuse and its wider effects on children and families. For a start, it seems he is judging the priorities of his constituents based on what he hears most in conversation. People talk to him about robbery of their sheds and houses and these, therefore, are the matters of most importance. By contrast, he appears to insinuate that because he is rarely approached about domestic violence, that it is not a significant issue; that it, therefore, does not warrant the same level of his time and consideration, or, in turn, the funding he part controls.

The very nature of domestic violence is that victims do not often talk about it openly, especially given that women (the overwhelming majority of its victims) are so often living under threat of harm to themselves or their children. In fact, they avoid talking about it, not just because it is deeply personal and difficult area of their lives, but because talking about it would be likely to threaten the safety of them and their family even further. The most dangerous time for any victim of domestic violence is when they try to leave.

Given their circumstances and experience, I am hard pressed to think of a less likely confidante for any woman in this predicament than a middle-aged, middle-class, male councillor with a reputation for nastiness and a void of empathy,  so it is hardly surprising that this is not a matter  Owen has to face on a regular basis. In fact given that his views on the matter have now been publicly shared, he has just made that far less likely, and indeed removed any chance that someone might view him as a route to support.

There are multiple barriers for women escaping abuse in seeking and receiving support: actual physical danger of attack, fear, feeling that you are responsible, lack of refuge places or family support. Congratulations to him for having just put up another obstacle!

Domestic violence, some statistics suggest, affects one in four women in their lifetime and there is a reason that Theresa May, leader of the Conservative party that Phillip Owen claims to represent, has prioritised it recently – it is increasing. Looking at convictions alone the volume of successfully prosecuted domestic abuse cases rose in 2015/2016 to 100,930, an increase from 92,779 in 2014/2015.

This is the highest level ever recorded. In short therefore, even if he was not chairing a committee (a role which affords him a substantially increased allowance) and even if Owen’s only responsibility as a councillor were to his own constituents in Kimberley and Nuthall, it is highly unlikely that he could afford not to prioritise domestic violence support in his area.

The scale and impact of statistically proven male violence against their partners, in the home, is such that it is highly likely that at least one person in the very room in which Owen spoke these heinous words is experiencing or has experienced a form of domestic abuse themselves. It also means that, potentially, one in every four of the women he claims to represent may need domestic violence support at some point.

I think we can all agree that any crime is a traumatic thing to experience, and nobody should have to tolerate having a shed broken into or being burgled. I don’t doubt that crime is rising, the cut’s Owen’s own party have made to national policing budgets have had a huge impact https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/police-funding-cuts-failing-to-respond-rising-crime-terror-inspectorate-report-efficiency-home-a8044866.html – but, is the rate of these crimes really as high as one in four; and – even if it were -what is the comparable damage and trauma, and how relevant are those issues to the safety of children?

NSPCC data that suggests that over 140,000 children in the UK live in households where high-risk domestic abuse takes place. This means there is serious risk of injury or death. The most basic training in Child protection teaches that the existence of domestic violence in a home is one of the single most important indicators of risk of harm to a child. This is why if police attend an incident in a family home they HAVE to report it to children’s social services.

This is without even considering the long-term psychological damage and life-limiting potential of witnessing a parent abused by another parent. Let us not forget that children are victims of domestic abuse too. It is both truly terrifying and unforgivable that the Chair of the children’s committee at Nottingham County Council is so very ignorant of this matter. By not recognising domestic abuse as an issue – including as an issue for children – not only he is doing them a disservice, he is potentially complicit in their ongoing entrapment and abuse.

When it comes to attitudes around violence in relationships and families we all have a choice – to be part of the problem, or to be part of the solution. It’s clear he has chosen his side. We the people of Nottingham County can only hope he reconsiders. The consequences if he doesn’t will be severely damaging. Will Kay Cutts now ask for his resignation from the County Council, and will Richard Jackson do similar for the Borough? If they truly believe in Theresa May’s stated belief in tackling domestic violence and modern slavery, then they will. If they are happy to serve with a bigotted misogynist in their ranks, expect him to be spouting more ignorance at the next council meeting. LISA CLARKE.

_____________________________________________

TOWN HALL UPDATE

Apologies for the delay in this update: as you will know if you follow my other week, i’ve been rather busy.

 

I wrote the following on Facebook immediately after the meeting:

Right, a quick synopsis of the council meeting tonight regarding the Town Hall.

Before I was leaked the confidential papers about the bidding process to keep the building in the community, the council were ready to vote to make sure that that bid would not be accepted, and that the Church bid would be the only one going forward.

We changed that. Thanks to whoever leaked the document to me, the people who subsequently analysed it, and all those who turned up tonight – they all made the council keep the community bid in the running. It’s not the war won, just a battle, and there will plenty more fights to come.

They didn’t accept this defeat lightly, however. The Leader of the Council, Conservative Richard Jackson called the leak and the exposure of the conflicts of interest as ‘disgusting’ ‘untrue’ and claimed I was a member of the community bid – I’m not and the community bid will be lodging a formal complaint as such.

But the leak shone a light where it needed to be shone and exposed the council. They claimed it was a ‘disgrace of democracy’. I would argue quite the opposite – the disgrace lies solely with the ruling party of the council, who for personal gain hate transparency, hate public input, hate democracy.

The fight continues. Thank you, everyone.

 

So, a victory of sorts for the community bid, although it is clear the council are desperate to get the building off their hands as soon as feasibly possible.

 

But again, I attended a council meeting and was subject to being lied to and my professional reputation trashed by councillors that write about – with no right of reply. I do have an outstanding complaint, which was, by the council’s own guidelines, should have been dealt with in 20 days. It’s now 120. As such, I’ve opened a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman on this failure by the council to reserve the case, and will be taking further legal action in due course. The council treating the people they are tasked to serve abysmally? Well, what a neat way to segue into the Redwood Crescent debacle….

 

BROXTOWE BUILDING SCANDAL: COUNCIL NOT OUT OF THE (RED)WOODS YET

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I visited Redwood Crescent on a warm day back in May, and met Kris Poole and Robert Pitchfork to talk about what was happening on their street. What they told me shocked me: and as regular readers of this blog know the utter ineptitude of the current administration  I intended to write up a piece a few days later, but circumstances conspired and a few months on it still sits half written and much-added to on my hard drive.

In brief – very brief, because the amount of stuff the wonderfully tenacious Poole and Pitchfork have turned up deserves to be given credit, and will be published soon – Broxtowe bought up a row of garages on Redwood Crescent and sold them at a startling discount to a company, Precision, that was ran by a guy who’d already screwed up a build in North Notts. The developers then built some atrocious houses – or rather, didn’t build them, leaving them an absolute eyesore in the centre of the close. Who allowed this, and who knew what seems to either point to gross ineptitude, or something rather more sinister and corrupt. If info I’ve received recently checks out, we can assume the latter and expect a few arrests down the line. Small consolation for the residents, who have to live with this mess on their street.

As with any brewing scandal, the story moves fast, and from what I heard happened at full council when residents got to ask (carefully pre-approved) questions to the council. As usual, they were stonewalled:

To Cllr Kerry  The council’s Garage Strategy put forward the option of demolishing garages in order to redevelop land for affordable housing. Can you please explain how the sale of land at Redwood Crescent to a developer who then wants to rent them out for over £1000 per month fits with this?

Cllr Kerry: “Due to an ongoing international investigation, legal advice is that I am unable to talk about this”.

To Cllr Jackson: When did you first become aware of possible improprieties in the way that the land at Redwood Crescent was handled and how did you attempt to rectify that situation for the benefit of residents?

Cllr Jackson: After taking external legal advice I am unable to answer until internal investigation has concluded. Investigation findings will be published as soon as allowed.

Open, transparent, democratic. None of these words are in Kerry or Jackson’s vocabulary, it seems.  Perhaps after sacking Councillor Owen, Councillor Jackson can also do the honourable thing and follow?

He won’t obvs, but maybe something else will force his hand. If it’s not an impending criminal charge (watch this space) then maybe it will be the civil war in his own party. Yes, the Tory Brexit schism has hit Broxtowe….

SOUBZ V DODDY: THE BATTLE GOES ON.

Broxtowe Councillor John ‘This budget will stop cancer‘ Doddy is also the chair of Broxtowe Conservatives but isn’t content to swim in such a small pond. What he really craves, and which sources close to him tell me has become an obsession, is to be an MP himself. There is one impediment to this: we already have one here. I’ve written about her once or twice.

Yet this is a party where Brutus would feel great kinship, where Boris  Johnson’s personal ambition overrides any sense of duty; where the whip’s office seethes with conspiracy and threats; where Jacob Rees Mogg can seize power in a coup so subtle we’re only just realising it’s happened. Doddy decided to try the ol’ dark arts himself.

Seeing that Soubz was in a position of vulnerability through assuming the pariah status of the Tory’s voice of anti-Hard Brexit, and noting her small majority will disappear when the next election is called (November?) due to a resurgent UKIP targetting her seat, he decided to survey local members on their thoughts on her performance. The results of this would then be very powerful ammo for calling for her deselection, and leave the path clear for Doddy to march into the Commons.

doddy

Unfortunately, he bungled it, and Soubry got wind of the survey and hit back in the strongest terms. I’ve printed it in full here as it is quite scathing, and gives some startling insight into the workings of the local Tory party:

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A complaint about Doddy was submitted by Soubz to Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis, though asking him to make an ethical / procedural judgement on this is like asking Piers Morgan to do some proper journalism. 

Stung, Doddy put his tail between his legs and retreated, sending Soubry this contrite-soaked reply:

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Blimey. And just as internal divisions within the party in Westminster put the public well behind their own careers, so to in Broxtowe. Wonder why your complaint hasn’t been dealt with, why Councillors ignore you, why that bit about ‘representing residents’ seems secondary to their own ladder-climb? Wonder no longer.

BROXTOWE: SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER.

You’ve probably heard of the plans to abolish Broxtowe, and have the county council absorb it and other borough councils. I have been predicting this for some time and pointing out that the trashing and degradation of a once-great council is not an accident, it is ideology. I was accused of scare-mongering and peddling conspiracy theories about this, but its now proven to be true. This story obviously deserves more than a brief footnote, and I will try and do it justice soon.  For now, any financial help to keep this blog running and allow me to take time out of freelancing to write it is appreciated: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

TOWN HALL: A CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

COUNCIL MEETING TONIGHT (weds 4th July) TOWN HALL 7PM START; ATTEND AND PROTEST

  • Conflict of interest suspected in the bid process
  • Officer in charge of bid process has links to evangelical church bidding
  • Local gov procurement expert damns council’s process
  • Calls for bid process to be restarted with greater transparency
  • Legal action being prepared against council

In our last report, we scrutinised documents we were shown that outlined the process the council used for assessing the future of the Town Hall, in particular bids that would have ensured the building would have remained in community hands.

While we were looking through the documents, we were tipped off that there was another potential conflict of interest involving the officer advising on, and evaluating, the bids. This brings into question the neutrality of the bidding process – as well as the flawed methodology employed in the process we outlined in the previous article, a major breach of the procedure may have occurred.

One of the bidders, as we briefly mentioned in previous article, is a local evangelical church, which we shall not name for now. They are pretty much awash with money, having several rich backers and a tithe system that has allowed them to raise millions in funds to increase their property portfolio.

It is a member of the powerful Evangelical Alliance, a growing organisation of churches which, while doing a fair bit of good work at home and abroad, have a stridently homophobic attitude and advocate gay and lesbians ‘transform’ and join the church. They are quite a vocal bunch, and not fond of dissenting voices: organisations that advocate that gay love is, well, love, are thrown out of the organisation. But my personal views on this should not taint my oversight of the process, right?

What struck us about the leaked notes on this bid was how positive the evaluator judged the bid, in both language and willingness to take it forward.

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Compare to the community bid

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This is simply untrue. Yet if it wasn’t for getting sight of this leaked document, this would have been hidden from sight. Rendering a document non-public allows a multitude of sins.

Before we get to the information about why this might be so, and why the process looks subject to a conflict of interest, we were contacted by a procurement expert / Member of the Institute of Purchase and Supply who came across our campaign. She was horrified by what she saw

…really looks like the weightings prove that the council are favouring certain bidders which in my mind is unethical and against procurement guidelines…

and

…I am sure they will have broken more than one guideline. I recently had to back off an interview panel because I knew one of the candidates and I fail to see how someone with a personal interest in a bidder can form a major part in the assessment and awarding process.

(that bit will become clearer further down the page)

also

I know the govt depth I worked for would never have allowed such a shambles!

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Is it just a lack of professionalism, or is something more sinister happening?

The aforementioned officer (who had control of the evaluation process and wrote the leaked report) is a key member of the church bidder’s sister church in Nottingham, a fellow member of the Evangelical Alliance. His family members are also personnel at the church, and he has conducted missionary work on their behalf.

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We have strong evidence to suggest that the officer did not declare this potential conflict of interest and offer to be recused from the process. In not doing so, we believe his professional neutrality could not be guaranteed, and the process was thus inherently flawed.

More evidence to back this up comes from a further reading of the document. While the rules towards bids are applied stringently on the community bid, with no supporting evidence requested, extra time given, the church bid gets an unprecedented extension to its bid

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We have not named the officer to avoid embarrassment to himself and his colleagues, and we hope that his failure to disclose this conflict of interest was an oversight, rather than a clear case of pushing through his personally preferred bid. Either way, we do feel that the process is invalid and the council should rethink the process from scratch, with much greater transparency and emphasis on retaining the building for public use. Flogging it to friends is not an option.

I am aware at least one party is ready to issue a legal challenge made via the Local Government Ombudsman and other routes if this is not the case and the council bundles through the report’s findings to be voted on by Full Council.

The Town Hall should represent the best of local democracy, a monument to transparency. Tonight we will find out if those who sit in it are worthy to do so.

 

 

DOOMED TO FAIL: WHY BROXTOWE REJECTED COMMUNITY BIDS TO SAVE THE TOWN HALL

  • Community bids already stacked against commercial bidders.

  • Council valuations show huge uncertainty.

  • Community benefit undervalued.

  • Lip-service and nothing else?

 

We were shown confidential documents earlier this week relating to, amongst other things, the future of the Town Hall. They have rejected the community bid to keep the building in the hands of Beeston, whose predecessors built the hall.

As we have shown in previous stories, severe mismanagement of the council from the current administration has led to reserves being plundered, staff morale crashing, massive legal and temp staffing fees and, ultimately, the flogging off of assets.

The most visible -not to say symbolic -asset to be flogged was Beeston Town Hall, mooted for giving to developers to plug the holes in budgets, or simply demolished. After a public outcry, councillors lied and claimed they’d never had demolition as a possible outcome: despite having it as an option on their public consultancy form!

Under pressure, they then opened up a process where community groups could put in bids to run it and keep it as it was always intended: a public building.

The documents we have been leaked reveal this process looks like a sham designed to doom all bids to fail. 

Could we also be cheeky scamps and ask that if you appreciate the work we do, it would be very helpful to drop us a few quid to help us continue? Thomas and I both spend many hours and drink much coffee digging through the stuff certain people don’t want digging through, and it would be hugely appreciated if you help pay for the time we’re not earning money elsewhere.  You can easily and swiftly put a few bob our way here: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

Tom Roberts reports why.

The council obtained two independent valuations on the Town Hall which valued it at £425,000 and £1,000,000. For those with eyes it is clear that these values differ wildly and this itself should be cause for alarm. It is frankly irresponsible of the council to not obtain a third valuation when one is nearly two and a half times larger than the other.

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It is unclear what would explain the £575,000 difference in value. It is the opinion of the architect that was commissioned by the Co-operative bidder than this may represent the difference between the value of the building “as is” and the value post renovation. Under the Co-operative’s unsubmitted plans, which included planned additions of shower blocks and a kitchen that total renovation and repair would cost approximately £800,000.

Amusingly, if you are living in a council property and commission your own repairs you are expected to provide the council a minimum of three quotations to assess best value.

As part of the request for community bids the price requested was for offers “in excess of £500,000.” This number is significant for several reasons, not least that it fails to match either the valuations or the average of the valuations.

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The council reports provide a clear reasoning, during expression of interest two commercial bidders made offers of “around £0.5mn.” This is the figure that community bids were expected to make offers above and beyond. They were already being expected to match and indeed exceed offers made from the commercial sector. This is hardly in keeping with first preference being given to community bidders.

Beestonia understands that neither of the bids has matched this £500,000 figure and the Co-operative expressly pulled out because they regarded it as too high and it is, in fact, higher than one of the valuations obtained for the building.

The following is the weighting approved by the council and used to evaluate the bidders. As you can see the purchase price offered by bidders. The community benefit, the actual point of allowing community bidders to engage, accounted for a measly 5% of the Bid’s total score. This is seven times less important than the purchase price offered.

If we accept the value of the proposed use this, itself about the contribution the building can make to the local community, then the total value of the community portion of the community bid is approximately 20% of the total value of their bid.

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It is further understood that there was an alternative measure proposed that would have assigned the community benefit a far greater importance, approximately 27%. Combine with proposed us this would have meant community use and benefit would account for approximately 40% of the total bid value. This was rejected by councillors at a previous meeting.

Councillors were reminded that both bids offered less financially than the commercial offers and that due to their nature they would be unable to apply national non-domestic rates (NNDR). In layman’s terms this is the building’s business rates obligation and the councillors are informed this will cost the council £10,000 a year.  There was also a heavy implication that they would need to justify their decision.

The Council also did not possess several documents that bidders had expected. Part of the council’s justification in selling off the building is the running costs are unsustainable due to repairs needed but no quantity surveyor’s report has been performed.

The Co-operative informed me that they had tried to commission a report, due to the nature of their renovations, but found the cost prohibitive for what was at the time a speculative process. The estimates they secured average approximately £4000, due to the size of the building and the complications of its current state.

Based on a conversation with the council the Co-operative found the building may need in medium term renovation work:

  • • The drains are entirely located at the back of the building, necessitating a system of pumps to properly parse effluence from kitchens and bathrooms near the front.
  • • The plumbing itself is in reasonable condition but apparently obsolete and as parts become scarcer will require replacement.
  • The boiler is in good condition but obsolete and has approximately 2-3 years of replacement parts available before it also needs replacing.
  • The basement regularly floods and requires pumping in wet weather to prevent this flooding.
  • The lift is obsolete (meaning parts are no longer available) and no longer compliant with modern disability law and as a council worker told me “you take it at your peril.”

Again, the Co-operative’s architect on estimated the work required at approximately £800,000. This is likely more than the current value of the building and is close to the highest estimated value.

The reports and surveys provided did vary dramatically in how up to date they were. Whilst many were from 2017, the most recent Insurance Risk Management report provided was from 2012. The Asbestos report came from 2008. There was no structural survey provided at all.

There is also the question of running costs. These were estimated at a whopping £107,748, an eye-watering sum by anyone’s standards. Whilst this estimate reflects the council’s current usage it includes the £25,600 in NNDR that none of the submitted community bids would be expected to pay.

It also includes the electricity cost as £26,188, this seems high but is explained by the council running their servers from the Town Hall. A standard- sized server, approximately 850watts, costs around £900 a year to run and the council has an entire server room within the Town Hall. The cost in 2017/18 as reported in the council documents was £22,260. Around £4000 less than the figure bidders were supplied.

Finally, groups were expected to provide significant detail whilst the council themselves remained vague. One of the biggest issues raised to me by the Co-operative and the Community Interest Bid was that there was no timescale for the Council vacating the building.

In the Co-operative’s case this provided a significant uncertainty that contributed to their decision to withdraw. They would either be required to postpone their purchase for an undefined period, making it difficult to reassure investors, or would rely on a rental income from the council that would be lower than the cost of repaying the investment.

The Community Interest Bid expressed similar anxiety around this withdrawal period. They would presumably be expected to arrange contracts with community interest groups, secure volunteers and organise their calendar without a clear idea when they would be allowed to enter the building.

In both cases this uncertainty, beyond that the council would have no presence in the “medium to long-term,” affected the bids.

Conclusion:

It seems clear that the Community groups faced significant hurdles in attempting to secure the future of the Town Hall. Bids were expected to be “in excess of” the £500,000 offered by commercial bidders, a significant hurdle for non-profits. This is despite the building’s actual value being unclear and the council’s independent valuations varying wildly. A lack of a structural survey, despite assertions of the building’s need for repairs, represented a significant financial obstacle for many bidders and required them to over-estimate renovation costs. In this context, Beestonia asks how serious the council was about this community bidding process, and how fairly those bids were treated?

This is an on-going story and we will keep you updated as we receive responses from the community bids. As the council looks in deep trouble on the Redwood Crescent scandal, with possible criminal proceedings a very real prospect, we can imagine they aren’t too willing to give us a response: nevertheless, we will print when they do.