Save Our Sidmouth

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“I can only assume that you have something to hide.”, SOS Chair tells EDDC

As detailed in our most recent posts on the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by SOS Chair, Richard Thurlow, about relocation, East Devon District Council (EDDC) has refused to give some essential data on savings that they foresee if they relocate. EDDC said that they could not give him this information because of ” commercial confidentiality”.

He questioned this and here is EDDC’s latest reply, and Richard Thurlow’s response to it, with his aside that, “I have again queried this because the information which I seek has nothing to do with individual employee costs neither could I extract them even if I wished to.”

Mr Thurlow

Thank you for your email. Please accept my apologies for an error in my previous response. The information which was not provided to you specifically in relation to part (e) of your request is not exempt on the basis of commercial confidentiality.

The reason that the make-up and exact predictions within the financial reconciliation document cannot be provided to you at this time relates to the inclusion in the figures of specific employee costs. It would be possible to identify individual staff members from the information used in these calculations and the data is therefore exempt under s40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Please be advised that this document is going to be audited by both SWAP and Grant Thornton and so, although we cannot provide all requested detail publicly at this stage, I hope you will take comfort from the fact that professional and independent parties will be thoroughly reviewing the document.

To confirm, this aspect of your request is exempt from disclosure under s40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act and my apologies for any confusion caused by my earlier response.

Information and Complaints Officer
East Devon District Council’

Richard Thurlow has replied as follows:

‘Your answer is complete fiction; you have now find another excuse for not giving me data, again completely wrongly. In my last email, I detailed the basic headings under which you calculated the operating costs of both the Knowle and your proposed
new buildings, obtained from your own, publicly available document.

You now refuse to give me details of the estimated future costs and % increase rate under these headings, all of which ,except “Employee costs” cannot be sensitive to “the identification of Council employees”. And even then, these “Employee” costs, which
you have given as £110216 in an EDDC published document, are not split down into individual employees, so there is NO possibility of me identifying what an EDDC employee earns in maintaining the buildings.

Interestingly in that document, you have calculated the Employee cost in the new buildings as being identical to the Knowle, so there is no reason for saying that I cannot have this information under the FOI act, because I need nothing further other than the %
increase over 20 years which you have assumed.

I give below the costs under each heading for both the Knowle and the proposed new building, available in the public document.

Knowle :New Buildings
Planned Maintenance, ;£12738 ;£5529
Reactive Maintenance ;£13306 ;£5000
Electricity consumption ;£63289 ; £18296
Gas consumption ; £20613 ;£10768
Water consumption ; £8356 ;£8356
COUNCIL Rates ; £124221 ;£53922
Buildings insurance ;£13357 ;£5798
Employee costs ;£110216 ; £110216
Grounds maintenance ;£12692 ; £3173
Property service costs ;£28260 ;£12267
Recharge for Council Services ;£24574 ;£24574
Other costs ; £17123 ;£7433
Other Running Costs ; £ 99425 ; £4091

TOTAL ; £458170 ; £269424

What I need is the inflation % you have assumed in your calculation
of the savings over 20 years, from 2015 onwards

Your refusal to give me this is totally unjustified.

I can only assume that you have something to hide.

Please let me have this information immediately. I am aware that
SWAP and Grant Thornton are reviewing your figures; in fact I am in
correspondence with them about the situation
Yours sincerely,

R Thurlow’

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SOS dismisses “emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views” in Cllr Tom Wright’s letter.

This letter has been sent to the Exmouth Journal, countering a Conservative councillor’s letter about relocation, which was published in that newspaper last week:

A response to Councillor Tom Wright’s letter is essential. He demonstrates EDDC councillors’ continuing inability to understand basic issues and he hopes that bland statements and unsubstantiated opinions can overcome the obvious shortcomings of EDDC’s proposed move from the Knowle. Let’s help him to understand those issues.

The facts are:

• EDDC chose Sidmouth for its HQ after the 1973 local government re-organisation. Modern and EDDC-approved extensions were built in the 70s and 80s.
• After a major review in 2001/2002 EDDC confirmed that it should remain at the Knowle because:
o It was central for the district, easily accessible by public transport from all the remaining towns and that considerable sums had already been spent in shutting outlying offices and depots.
o The Knowle allowed any necessary expansion .
o Refurbishment of nearly £4 million was implemented. The then- Conservative leader said that the building should never again be allowed to fall into disrepair but soon, regular planned maintenance ceased.
• An estimate in 2014 by EDDC’s advisers on Relocation suggested that some £1.5 million, to remedy defects, would enable the building “to be occupied for the next five years”. These repairs resulted from “the failure to carry out maintenance in previous years”, (their words).
• EDDC maintains it only needs an area marginally larger than the existing “new” Knowle buildings but no really detailed investigation has been undertaken to and extend the “new” building and sell older parts.
• The Skypark option collapsed when EDDC discovered that they lacked sufficient money to fund it and that they had overlooked statutory regulations on tendering.
• £705,000 has already been allocated and mainly spent on relocation fees despite the desperate need to fund other services.
• EDDC sums for the move do not make sense. The costs of the new Honiton building and the refurbished Exmouth building, plus other essential spend, will total more than £15m- in these times of austerity.
• EDDC plans to borrow £5.5m over 20 years for the move and claims that energy cost savings will make the move “cost neutral”. Informed commentators have ridiculed these energy saving estimates which are five times higher than government’s own predictions.
• Only a few chosen councillors know the financial breakdown for the Knowle sale, the costs of new and refurbished offices and all the other associated costs, yet other councillors continue to vote it through.

EDDC is secretive, responds tardily to FOI requests and even objected to the Information Commissioner’s ruling to release some reports prepared by their consultants. £7,500 has been spent on a barrister to appeal against this ruling.

The relocation, a Conservative-supported vanity project, is opposed by many councillors, including the Independent Claire Wright, the prospective Parliamentary candidate for East Devon who has long-since been an outspoken critic. Even the current Conservative MP, Hugo Swire urges EDDC to delay the relocation exercise because of uncertainties on the future of Local Government and the loss of 250 jobs to Honiton.

Any move, a disaster for which we would all pay over 20 years, cannot be justified by emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views.

Richard Thurlow
Chair, Save Our Sidmouth


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