Lib Dem council needs to ‘get a grip’, say Tories

CONCERNED Tories say they have uncovered serious flaws at the way the council manages the property and land it owns.

And they say the Liberal Democrat run council needs to “get a grip of its appalling management of its assets” before somebody is hurt and the council could be liable for hundreds of thousands of pounds in payouts.

In the latest intouch magazine distributed to hundreds of homes across the town, the Tories say there is no current plan in place for hundreds of pieces of land and property the council owns – some of which need urgent repair – and there are what they call poorly held records of leases.

They also say £13,000 of council tax payers’ money has been spent on consultants who have told the council it needs a further report which will take up to three years to complete.

Conservative councillor Patrick Warner said this week, “We intend to get to the bottom of this appalling state of affairs urgently. We have lot of old buildings in the council’s portfolio and to not have any proper system in place to know what needs doing and to be able to plan – even just from a financial point of view – seems crazy.

“Our major concern, especially when you take into account the concrete falling off the Congress before the screens went up, is that something similar could happen with another of the council’s assets. It has serious implications for health and safety for members of the public and poses a massive financial risk to the council.”

Cllr Warner said he was also concerned at what he called the “consultant mentality”. “This shows a worrying trend to rely on consultants,” he said.

“These consultants have already been paid £13,000 and we are no further on. We need to get to the bottom of this and soon.

Council officers, however, say an Asset Management Plan does exist and there are 532 assets on its asset register, of which 213 are buildings.

A spokesperson for the council said, “In 2006 Cabinet approved the development of an Asset Management Plan and this was brought to Cabinet in February 2008. The entire political and economic context has changed significantly since then and the AMP is being reviewed in the light of these changes.

“The latest valuation of the council’s portfolio is £71 million, in the context of which a £13,000 report (0.018 per cent of the portfolio value) is a modest sum.

“The recent report, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), specialists in Local Authority Asset Management, reviews the impact of some of the early changes made under the current AMP, provides an updated and expanded context and makes some new recommendations on moving forward to ensure the AMP is consistent with the aims and objectives of creating a sustainable asset base as set out in the newly adopted Corporate Plan.

“It is true the council faces some significant challenges relating to the management of its land and property, and these are the result of decades of under-investment. Significant achievements have already been made, such as the rationalization of office space, saving £340,000 this year alone.

“Other projects, such as the Devonshire Park review, are also already well underway. We are facing up to the scale of the challenge and the next report to Cabinet on asset management in October will provide detailed recommendations on the next steps to address this issue.”