Hart Council meets again next week on Thursday 29th September. We have tabled a series of questions to expose the Cabinet’s apparent Shapley Heath “Operation Cover Up”. Together they have made a number of false statements to July Council and to September’s Cabinet that seek to minimise the colossal failure of the project. In summary, they have frittered away over £800K of public money and delivered nothing of substance. Instead of spending even more money on a “Facilitated Reflection” they should be accepting responsibility and resigning.
Here are the questions we have tabled to Council Leader, David Neighbour; Chair of the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board, Graham Cockarill and Deputy Leader, James Radley. We will report on their answers to these and the inevitable supplementary questions after the meeting next week.
Questions on Shapley Heath Operation Cover Up to David Neighbour
- At September Cabinet you insisted the Shapley Heath Audit took place “at a point in time” in November 2021 which is before it was even commissioned. Do you now agree that the Shapley Heath Audit was only agreed by Audit Committee at their meeting in December 2021, the developer studies were published in January 2021, the audit work was carried out afterwards by TIAA in March and April 2022 and the first draft report was delivered in late June 2022 with the final report circulated in early July 2022?
- The deliverables that had to be completed to achieve the first milestone of the Shapley Heath project were: the Communities Survey, Vision and Objectives, Communication and Engagement Strategy, Technical Studies, Strategic Viability Appraisal and Phase One Masterplan (Concept). The Technical Studies comprised 13 Baseline Studies and 14 Strategy Reports. At the September Cabinet meeting you said you disagreed with TIAA’s assessment that no milestones had been achieved. Can you set out which of the planned deliverables were published and how on earth they constitute the achievement of the first milestone?
Questions on Shapley Heath Operation Cover Up to Graham Cockarill
- At the July Council meeting you stated the Shapley Heath project was stopped because the Government had ceased providing financial support. When was the Council informed that it would not receive any further Government funding, what reason was given for that decision and will you publish that letter as it is a matter of public record?
- You also said that nobody from the Opportunity Board raised any issues with you about the Shapley Heath project as if that somehow absolved you as Chair of any responsibility. Three of your Cabinet colleagues, David Neighbour, James Radley and Stuart Bailey sat on the Opportunity Board with you, does this mean that they are more, or less, responsible than you for the failures of the project?
- At the same meeting, you claimed that the project has “met its primary objective” despite the fact that no milestones have been achieved. The stated objectives were to “establish a vision for a Garden Community and evidence whether such a vision is both viable and deliverable”. Where is the published Vision that has been established and where is the evidence that the vision is both viable and deliverable?
- On 25th February 2021, along with the rest of the Council, you approved the overall budget including funding for the New Settlement. The New Settlement budget covered staffing for only 2-3 people and £25K for consultants. Did any budgetary alarm bells start to ring when the Thematic Groups were stuffed with unbudgeted Council Officers, advertisements were placed for contracts worth up to £56K, a new website appeared along with an extensive survey and you appeared in professionally produced videos to promote the survey; wasn’t it clear then that the spending was going to massively exceed the budget?
Question to James Radley
- Back in July 2021, I asked you a number of questions about obvious budgeting and financial reporting irregularities in the Shapley Heath project. The Shapley Heath Audit Report confirmed these concerns, saying there was no evidence that “the project had been accurately and appropriately financially managed”. At the time you brushed off these concerns and actually defended the Council’s financial controls. As Cabinet member for Finance, what steps did you take to investigate the obvious weaknesses that were quite correctly highlighted by my questions?