Why no inquiry into the wasted £1.5 million?

The Civic Centre in Stoke.

The Civic Centre in Stoke.

Pretend for a moment that you are in charge of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Let’s assume that you are aware of the fact that, as with all local authorities, money is too tight to mention.

Bear in mind that you have already had to get rid of several hundred staff to help balance the books.

So what would you do with an additional £1.5 million?

Would you plough it into improving frontline services? Would you use the money to save jobs?
Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t – it’s all gone.

Gone where?, you might ask.

Well, I’m sorry to say that it has been frittered away on consultants assessing a scheme that will now never happen.

I know. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

New city council Chief Executive John van de Laarschot has stunned elected members by telling them that a plan to privatise up to 800 council jobs now “isn’t deliverable”.

As a result, the council’s cabinet will tomorrow decide whether or not to ditch the £250 million ‘strategic partnership’ scheme.

Two firms had been bidding for the contract to take on hundreds of council staff and become the so-called ‘anchor tenant’ for the proposed business district to the south of Hanley.

But the scheme now looks dead in the water after Mr van de Laarschot told councillors the plan would only save the authority three per cent over the life of the contract – compared with the cost of employing the existing staff.

Now, let’s be clear – public/private partnerships like this are nothing new.

Other councils in the UK have transferred staff to the private sector and still more are planning to go down this cost-cutting route.

Thus I’m not saying that the powers-that-be at the Civic Centre were wrong to consider the move in the first place.

However, I’m staggered that it has taken four years and £1.5 million of public money before someone finally realised it was a rubbish idea.

One could argue that this is simply a case of Mr van de Laarschot coming in with new ideas and doing what many bosses do – stamping his authority and putting the previous regime in a bad light.

I don’t buy that. Surely someone at some point since this process began should have stuck up their hands and said: “I don’t think this is going to work”.

If they had have done they would have saved the long-suffering taxpayers of the Potteries an awful lot of money. Money this city can ill-afford to waste.

Still, at least we’ve kept someone in a job. At least the consultants have done well out of this fiasco.

Yes, the public sector’s antidote to its own ineptitude – those unaccountable, faceless leeches – will have made a pretty penny out of this non-event.

The bottom line is this: £1.5 million (not £10,000 or £100,000 but £1.5 million) has been wasted – along with years of work.

And what do we have to show for it? Absolutely nothing.

In addition, the business district is still pie in the sky and hundreds of council employees with families and mortgages have been messed about and worried unnecessarily.

I’d like to see anyone from the council try to spin this exercise as “value for money”.

Indeed, this is so bad you could argue it warrants another Audit Commission investigation.

Heads should roll, according to councillor Mick Salih.

He’s absolutely right, of course. Just don’t hold your breath, Mick.


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