Shapley Heath Whitewash Dream Comes True

The results are in. The report arising from the “facilitated reflection” into the Shapley Heath debacle has been sent to some Councillors. Our prediction of a whitewash has been vindicated.

Back in July last year, Audit Committee demanded that:

Cabinet be asked to provide a response to the management recommendations contained within the Shapley Heath Audit Review report, and to review the application of project governance, financial controls, and reporting for the Shapley Heath project and to provide a response to Audit Committee on lessons learnt.

The Cabinet responded by setting up a “facilitated reflection” into the fiasco that was originally due to take place in November 2022. For various reasons, this was postponed to January this year. The CCH and Lib Dem councillors involved held a roundtable workshop that was facilitated by Emanuel “Manny” Gatt of the Local Government Association (LGA). Manny has now produced his report.

Workshop Questions

The scope of the workshop was constrained by the questions it asked. These were:

  1. What lessons emerge on how to balance member/officer accountabilities and responsibilities on future project boards?
  2. How might members use their democratic powers to challenge when governance arrangements don’t appear to be functioning?
  3. How might member oversight be improved to ensure that clear and accurate updated information is provided to Cabinet in future?
  4. What safeguards need to be in place to flag when processes are not being followed?
  5. How might wider scrutiny arrangements be improved to support future projects?

Eagle-eyed readers will note that the five questions above do not really get to the heart of what the Audit Committee asked Cabinet to get to grips with. In particular, there’s no attempt to get to grips with how they managed to squander over £800K and deliver nothing of substance.

Findings from the Shapley Heath Whitewash Workshop

Needless to say, the findings from the report are pretty anodyne. Each question has a short section on things “members noted” and “learning points” they highlighted.

Astonishingly, at one point the Councillors claimed they were reluctant to push the project forward because of public resistance. However, each and every time they were challenged to stop the project, they continued forward like a driverless steamroller. They also inevitably place some blame on Covid. It’s as if the virus ate their homework. If Covid was disrupting the governance of the project, then surely the prudent thing to have done was formally pause it until conditions returned to normal.

One admission they made is that “the project’s oversight was viewed as beyond the remit of the Council’s normal scrutiny orbit”. However, it was Cabinet who took the decision to carry out the project outside of the Local Plan framework.

The closest we can get to a smoking gun is the following passages:

Despite all these [governance] mechanisms being in place, when questions were raised by members throughout the timeline about anticipated financial spend and governance of the Shapley Heath Garden [Village] project, the answers given failed to fundamentally address the concerns raised.

Elected members are both accountable and responsible for decisions made in respect of this and any other project. Notwithstanding the Opportunity Board’s role, the Cabinet remains ultimately accountable for all of the council’s projects and the portfolio holder is responsible for holding officers to account and alerting cabinet about areas of concern.

In other words, the Cabinet members responsible, Councillor Radley for finance, and Councillor Cockarill as chair of the Opportunity Board failed to master their brief and gave inadequate answers to questions. Four members of Cabinet (Radley, Cockarill, Leader Dave Neighbour and Stuart Bailey) were on the Opportunity Board. As members of both bodies, they should be held accountable for this fiasco and resign.

Most of the other learning points fall into the motherhood and apple pie category, for example:

  • All future projects must be monitored by Overview and Scrutiny
  • Cabinet members and portfolio holder must challenge officers’ report constructively
  • Ensure that member/officer roles and responsibilities are clear

Heads should roll, but we won’t hold our breath.




Hart Dreaming of a Shapley Heath Whitewash Christmas

Hart Dreaming of a Shapley Heath Whitewash Christmas

Hart Dreaming of a Shapley Heath Whitewash Christmas

Recently, we have heard of further attempts by Hart Council officers to create a Shapley Heath whitewash.

Apparently the CEO tried to bounce the Conservative members into a “roundtable” meeting to discuss: “What better member scrutiny arrangements could have supported the project and how member oversight could be improved”

The meeting with a representative of the Local Government Association was due to take place in January. The proposal for the roundtable did not include a Terms of Reference (ToR) or even an agenda. As far as we can see, the issues weren’t about the the lack of scrutiny arrangements nor lack of information. The governance arrangements were not followed and the bad information provided was not acted upon. The responsibility for that rests solely with the Chairman, Councillor Cockarill. Heaven knows what the other Cabinet members were thinking or doing.

The roundtable proposal fell somewhat short of the demand by the Audit Committee that Cabinet provide: “A response to the management recommendations contained within the Shapley Heath Audit Review report, and to review the application of project governance, financial controls, and reporting for the Shapley Heath project and to provide a response to Audit Committee on lessons learnt”.

Hart Audit Committee Decision Cabinet to Provide Response on Governance Financial controls and reporting for Shapley Heath

Hart Audit Committee Decision Cabinet to Provide Response on Governance Financial controls and reporting for Shapley Heath

We understand that the Conservative members of the Opportunity Board have refused to attend the meeting. They are unhappy that the proposal does not include a suitable ToR and no agenda has been prepared.

Over £800K has been squandered on the project, with nothing to show for it. They reluctantly agreed to an audit of the project, shirked responsibility and then rejected its findings. It beggars belief that the Cabinet, supported by the CEO, are still trying to wriggle out of responsibility. They don’t seem to be even trying to address the questions asked by Audit Committee.

Michael Gove Shakes Up Planning Rules

Michael Gove Shakes Up Planning Rules

Michael Gove Shakes Up Planning Rules

Michael Gove has sent a letter to MPs announcing a major shake up of the planning rules. Some of the changes were also reported in the Telegraph (subscription may be required). On the face of it, the changes look positive for Hart and Hart residents. Of course, the devil is always in the detail, so we will have to remain vigilant.  However, we are hopeful that these changes will finally kill off any idea that we need to build Shapley Heath. The changes are

  1. Central housing targets not mandatory
  2. Build less to take account of heritage restrictions and flood risk
  3. Not expected to build at densities out of character with existing areas
  4. Pursue gentle density in urban areas
  5. End obligation for 5-year land supply where plans are up to date
  6. Credit given for past over-supply
  7. Increase protections afforded by Neighbourhood Plans
  8. Brownfield first


Central Housing Targets Not Mandatory

According to Gove’s letter, central housing targets will become “an advisory starting point, a guide that is not mandatory”. “It will be up to local authorities, working with their communities, to determine how many homes can actually be built, taking into account what should be protected in each area – be that our precious Green Belt or national parks, the character of an area, or heritage assets.”

This means that for instance, we might be able to protect the Shapley Heath site because of its unique character and the heritage assets such as St. Mary’s Church.

Build less to take account of heritage restrictions and Flood Risk

Quoting from the letter: “Local planning authorities will be able to plan for fewer houses if building is constrained by important factors such as national parks, heritage restrictions, and areas of high flood risk.”

As mentioned above, there are heritage issues on the Shapley Heath site and of course high risk of flooding from surfacce water and groundwater across much of the site.

Not expected to build at densities out of character with existing areas

Again, according to the letter: “Local authorities will not be expected to build developments at densities that would be wholly out of character with existing areas or which would lead to a significant change of character.”

The area around Winchfield is very low density, which is part of its charm. Clearly a Garden Community of 5-10,000 houses would be out of character and change the character of the area irreparably.

Pursue gentle density in urban areas and Brownfield First

Michael Gove’s shake up of the planning rules also impacts urban areas. He says that “while more homes are needed in many existing urban areas, we must pursue ‘gentle densities’ as championed by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.”

He also commits to a Brownfield First strategy: “The Government is investing to incentivise and enable brownfield development. Homes England, our housing delivery arm, is spending millions on acquiring sites in urban areas to regenerate for new housing. We are also allocating over £800m to mayoral and local authorities to unlock over 60,000 new homes on brownfield land, as part of our wider brownfield and infrastructure funding package.

This should tilt the balance towards regeneration of urban centres in Hart such as Fleet, Blackwater, Yateley and Hook.

End obligation for 5-year land supply where plans are up to date

Gove also plans to end the obligation to have a rolling 5-year land supply. “We will end the obligation on local
authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of land for housing where their plans are up-to-date.”

Hart’s plan is up to date. Hart’s Local Plan is front-loaded, so we had a potential issue that we might have had to find additional sites towards the end of the plan period to maintain the 5-year land supply. It seems that this issue will be resolved, further weakening any case for building Shapley Heath.

Credit given for past over-supply

Michael Gove has also proposed giving credit for past over-supply of housing. “I want to recognise that some areas have historically overdelivered on housing – but they are not rewarded for this. My plan will therefore allow local planning authorities to take this into account when preparing a new local plan, lowering the number of houses they need to plan for.”

Hart has over-delivered on housing for a number of years. Some of this is taken into account in the 5-year land supply calculation. However, this change should allow Hart to reduce the housing requirement target in future years.

Increase protections afforded by Neighbourhood Plans

Finally, changes are proposed to increase the protections afforded by Neighbourhood Plans. “I will increase community protections afforded by a neighbourhood plan against developer appeals – increasing those protections from two years to five years. The power of local and neighbourhood plans will be enhanced by the Bill.”


Overall, we view these as positive changes for Hart as a whole.




Shapley Heath Facilitated Reflection Kicked into the Long Grass

Shapley Heath Facilitated Reflection Kicked into the Long Grass

Shapley Heath Facilitated Reflection Kicked into the Long Grass

It was revealed at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting that the “facilitated reflection” about the scathing Shapley Heath Audit Report has been kicked into the long grass. It won’t now occur until January 2023.  At September’s Cabinet meeting, it was agreed that the activity would take place and they committed to delivering the results at November’s meeting. It now looking like the results won’t be published before next year’s local elections. Only Hart could announce a 3 month delay to a 2 month project on the due date.

Their excuse is that the person they want from the LGA is not available until January next year. It does seem rather odd that it’s taken two months to find out that their preferred candidate is not available. They recommitted to the November date at October Cabinet. They also said they were going to contract with their supplier “in the next week”. Moreover, we understand that in mid-October members of the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board were asked for their availability out to end-November.

Interestingly, they committed to discuss the points raised in our statement given to Cabinet, but didn’t mention it at all when they got to the Shapley Heath item. They also didn’t receive the promised verbal update on the status of past and present projects.

Agenda Item 10 Shapley Heath Audit Review

Agenda Item 10 Shapley Heath Audit Review

As they say, failure to plan is to plan to fail. What did they expect would happen if they didn’t write a Terms of Reference and didn’t even set a budget. This omnishambles is destined to run and run…

Statement Given to Cabinet

Here is the video of the statement given to Cabinet. Some of the sound is missing on the first part of the original recording. However, the subtitles are working, so you can follow what was said that way. The sound appears part way through the statement.

Kicking Shapley Heath Facilitated Reflection into the Long Grass

Here is a video of the Shapley Heath Audit report item. Note also, still no discussion of the actual content of the report, just more waffle about how they failed their own process. Who wants to bet that the results of the facilitated reflection won’t be published until after the local council elections next year?

Statement to Cabinet About Ongoing Shapley Heath Fiasco

Hart Cabinet meets on Thursday this week. Below is our statement about the Shapley Heath fiasco that we intend to deliver on the night:

You have committed to openness and transparency in your follow up of the Shapley Heath Audit Report. Tonight, you might contemplate why none of the deliberations of the Staffing Committee have been published and why there is only a verbal update on the Management Action Plan and no written report.

The verbal update to Audit Committee revealed endemic institutional incompetence. Most pre-November 2021 projects had no PID and no financial documentation; many had no risk register. In other words, the what, why, where, when and who of all these projects wasn’t written down and agreed and there was no effective financial control framework. Many of the post-November 2021 projects are also delinquent with the Capita Review, Traffic Management and Fleet Pond enhancements having no documentation at all.

You might recall that strong criticisms were made in the Shapley Heath Audit Report about the lack of effective project management and inadequate financial controls. From the lack of written documentation accompanying this meeting, it is clear that you have missed your self-imposed deadline to deliver the results of your facilitated reflection today. Answers to FOI requests reveal that you haven’t created a Terms of Reference for this work and have not set a budget, so you haven’t learned even the most basic of lessons. As Einstein said, insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

It is four months since the Audit Report was delivered. There’s been a lot of talk about process and none about content. No effective action has been published and nobody from Cabinet has taken responsibility. You have denied the findings of the Audit Report. You have even censored questions where truthful answers would have caused you embarrassment. It is clear that the Council really has no idea how to run projects. The first part of addressing a problem is to admit it exists. You need urgently to pass through the denial phase, accept these fundamental failings and get on with fixing the deep underlying issues or make way for others who can.

Audit Committee Chairman Tries To Avoid Shapley Heath Follow Up

The recent Audit Committee meeting revealed that the Chairman (Councillor Axam) has his head in the sand as he tried to resist following up on the actions the committee had requested at its previous meeting. Councillor Southern tried for several minutes to insist that the Staffing Committee Chairman and the Leader of the Council be brought back to explain what actions they had taken as a result of the devastating Shapley Heath Audit Report. The chairman attempted to avoid the follow up taking place.

He first said he didn’t know what stage the Cabinet had reached in its investigations. Surely this is even more reason for the Leader to come back and explain. It was pointed out to the Chairman that the first (failed) request for an Internal Audit of Shapley Heath was made in July 2022, it didn’t get commissioned until December 2021 and then the report was made available in early July 2022. Now, nearly 4 months later precious little action has taken place. None of the actions agreed by the Staffing Committee have been published, so nobody knows what’s going on there. The Cabinet is going to miss its own self-imposed deadline of providing a comprehensive report at its November meeting. The internal management action plan has been provided only as a verbal update, with no actual corrective actions identified. Yet, Councillor Axam insisted that there were no “delaying tactics”.

Councillor Axam then agreed with Councillor Smith that the responses from Staffing Committee and Cabinet need not come back to Audit Committee. This is quite astonishing as Dave Neighbour,  Leader of the Council (and Cabinet) has said he doesn’t accept the Audit Report findings.

Shapley Heath Follow Up Must Return to Audit Committee

The Chairman was then somewhat embarrassed by one of the officers. The officer pointed out the minutes agreed as accurate a few minutes earlier had stated that Cabinet and Staffing Committee should provide a response to the Audit Committee.

Audit Committee Meeting Decision About Shapley Heath Follow Up

Audit Committee Meeting Decision About Shapley Heath Follow Up

Now the draft minutes of the meeting show that the Leader will be asked to attend Audit Committee in March 2023 if no adequate response has been provided in the meantime. The exchange is shown in the video below:

Audit Committee Chairman Cannot Do Arithmetic

Earlier in the meeting, there was an hilarious exchange where the Chairman inadvertently revealed that he’s no good at arithmetic. He said the audit fees were rising from £80K to £250K and described it as a 150% increase. In fact an increase from 80 to 250 is a 212.5% increase. Councillor Axam was pulled up on his error by another member of the Committee. It’s reasonable to expect that the Chairman of the Audit Committee be able to do basic arithmetic.

The full exchange on this topic can be found on the video below:

Hart Council Fails to Set Objectives and Budget for Facilitated Reflection

Hart Council Fails to Set Objectives and Budget for Facilitated Reflection. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Hart Council Fails to Set Objectives and Budget for Facilitated Reflection.

Regular readers will know that Hart Council has recently been criticised about the way it ran the Shapley Heath project in the independent Audit Report. In response to the report, they are to hold a “Facilitated Reflection” (aka Investigation, aka Independent Review).

No details of the review have been released, so we put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to ask for the following to be released:

1. The Terms Of Reference provided to the various bodies approached to conduct the activity.

2. The budget set by the Council to carry out this piece of work.

3. The actual costs incurred carrying out the work.

We have received a response to the FOI saying the Council does not hold the information requested. Typically Terms of Reference (ToR) would set the scope and objectives and lay out the organisation and governance arrangements for the piece of work. If they have no ToR and no budget, they aren’t following the basics of prudent management and financial control.

The criticisms laid at them by TIAA included the following:

  • No evidence to suggest that the project was financially managed appropriately.
  • Little financial monitoring information presented to members and some of that was inaccurate.
  • The Project Management did not meet the required standards.
  • No formal records of meetings and emails subsequently deleted.
  • Project reporting in terms of frequency and content did not meet expectations.
  • Little oversight by the Oversight Board and none by the Cabinet.
  • Virtually non-existent risk management.

In essence, they are carrying out this “reflection” in the same lackadaisical way they did the original project. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Sadly, they are demonstrating over and over that they are living in a clown world.


Hart Politburo Forced to Publish Shapley Heath Questions

Regular readers will recall that we submitted questions about the Shapley Heath debacle to last week’s Council meeting. The Council decided to censor the questions saying that they “appear to rehearse matters that have already been put to the council within the last 6 months”. That excuse was of course complete nonsense because last week was the first time questions could have been asked about the Shapley Heath Audit Report. When the agenda item came up, they denied that any questions had been asked. This is clearly a lie. Whoever forced the Committee Services official to lie should hang their head in shame.

Points of Order Raised

Councillor Spencer Farmer immediately raised two Points of Order. The first pointed out that the questions asked did not fall foul of the rules and should therefore have been allowed. The second pointed out that according to the Constitution, all questions should be published regardless of whether they were disallowed. The JCX gave a weak defence of the Council’s position. Under pressure, he had to concede that the questions did in fact exist and would be published with the minutes of the meeting.

That’s quite a transition. Within a few minutes they went from claiming no questions had been asked to agreeing the non-existent questions would be published with the minutes. They could even be asked again at the November meeting. It is now over a week since the meeting and the minutes have still not been published.

[Update:] The draft minutes have now been released. They wrongly attribute the Points of Order raised to Councillor Dr Crampton not to Councillor Farmer. They can’t get the minutes right even when they have a video of the whole meeting.[/Update]

Of course, they haven’t actually answered the Shapley Heath questions.

It is obvious the Council is running scared. They are too frightened to even acknowledge the existence of questions that highlighted the lies told misleading statements given at July Council and September Cabinet. For a Cabinet anxious to be seen to be not marking its own homework, this is terrible optics. Joseph Stalin would be proud.

In lieu of the minutes, here is a video of the relevant exchange.

Letter Highlighting Censorship of Shapley Heath Questions

What’s even stranger is that all Councillors and both JCXs knew of the existence of the questions. We sent an email to all Councillors informing them of the censorship of the questions and added an attachment containing the questions. So, this wasn’t some rogue officer making a mistake. It was a deliberate cover-up by senior officers and the Cabinet.

Here is the letter:

I attach the questions I submitted for this week’s Council meeting. They have been rejected because they “appear to rehearse matters that have already been put to the council within the last 6 months”. However, the Shapley Heath Audit Report was only released to the public in July, after the deadline for public questions to the July Council meeting.  Accordingly, this is the first time members of the public have been able to ask questions about the report and the statements made about it by Cabinet members. So, either the Officers have been “got at” or they have an even weaker grasp on reality than previously thought.

It is clear Cabinet members have been trying to denigrate, minimise and cover up the devastating findings of TIAA’s Audit Report. The Council Leader has falsely claimed that the Audit Work took place before it was even commissioned. From his statements, the Leader has no particular expertise in Project Management, yet this did not stop him from declaring arrogantly that he did not accept the findings of TIAA’s comprehensive, fact-checked report.

The Portfolio Holder for Place falsely claimed that the project had met its primary objective even though it had not achieved a single milestone and had certainly not achieved the objectives of establishing “a vision for a Garden Community and evidence whether such a vision is both viable and deliverable”. Moreover, we are no further towards understanding when they found out that the Government had stopped funding the project and how much more public money they squandered after being told. Nor do we know who took the decision to continue spending without recourse to the Opportunity Board.

The portfolio holder for Finance brushed off questions about obvious budgeting and reporting irregularities surrounding the project. At least one of his answers was obviously false at the time. Apparently he took no steps to investigate, despite having prima facie evidence handed to him on a plate.

What we have here is an absolute catastrophe of Project Management, Governance, Risk Management, Financial Control and above all, Leadership. The TIAA report makes that clear. Now the Cabinet are too cowardly to answer questions about it.  If the public are not allowed to hold them to account, you must step up to the plate. We cannot have a situation where over £800K of public money is poured down the drain, nothing of substance is delivered, questions cannot be asked and nobody is accountable.


Questions to Expose Shapley Heath “Operation Cover Up”

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?


Shapley Heath Deliverables Required for first Milestone

Shapley Heath Deliverables Required for first Milestone

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports Planned

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports Planned

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?
Objective of Shapley Heath Project

Objectives of the Shapley Heath Project

  • 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?
No evidence the project was financially managed appropriately

No evidence the project was financially managed appropriately


Hart Leader Denies Shapley Heath Audit Findings

Regular readers may recall we made a statement at this month’s Cabinet meeting about the Shapley Heath debacle. In the debate on the item Council Leader Dave Neighbour made the extraordinary statement that he did not accept all of the findings of the Audit Report. In particular he disputed the finding that none of the project milestones were met.

A number of other interesting points were made that we shall go through in detail below:

  • Councillor James “It’s Only Rhetoric” Radley claimed that he gave “honest and full” answers that were “full and accurate” reflections of the facts. Yes, really!
  • Remarkably, the “facilitated reflection” they were supposed to be discussing transformed in an “Investigation” and “Independent Inquiry”.
  • Councillor Radley also gave an explanation why they were only discussing “process” questions and it was too painful to discuss the substance of the Shapley Heath Audit.
  • At no point did they agree a cost budget for this work, other than being reassured it would be covered by the JCX’s “legal budget”.

Hart Leader Denies Shapley Heath Audit Report Findings

Here is the video of Lib Dem leader Dave Neighbour denying the findings of the Shapley Heath Audit report.

Councillor Neighbour makes a number of erroneous claims in that video.  The first is that TIAA carried out the report in November 2021. This is simply not true. It was only agreed by Audit Committee on 7 December 2021 that the Audit should take place. The Audit report itself says the work was carried out in March and April 2022.  The first draft was published on 24th June 2022 and the final document was published on 6th July 2022.

He then went on to claim that the report reflected a “point in time” and since then a number of reports had been received by developers. Again, this is untrue. The Baseline Studies to which he refers were all published in January 2022, well before the audit work began.

He went on to say that milestones were met because the studies were received after the date of the audit. Again, this is a false statement. We know from the project documents the deliverables that needed to be completed before the first milestone could be met.

Shapley Heath Deliverables Required for first Milestone

Shapley Heath Deliverables Required for first Milestone

These were the:

  1. Communities Survey
  2. Vision and Objectives
  3. Communication and Engagement Strategy
  4. Technical Studies
  5. Strategic Viability Appraisal
  6. Phase One Masterplan (Concept)

Deliverable Status

Items 1 was delivered and a draft of 3 was produced. Although the results of the survey were devastating in that the vast majority of respondents did not want the project to go ahead. Items 2, 5 and 6 were not delivered. Only some of the Technical Studies were delivered. The Technical Studies were made up of Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports.

Shapley Heath Technical Studies Comprise Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports

Shapley Heath Technical Studies Comprise Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports

There were supposed to be 13 Baseline Studies, of which nine were delivered.

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports Planned

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports Planned

No Strategy Reports were ever published. Of course, they also stopped the project in September 2021, well before the February 2022 deadline for the first milestone.

Councillor Neighbour is entitled to his own personal opinion, but he isn’t entitled to his own facts. It is a sad indictment of him that he misled his Cabinet colleagues, Councillors and the public in his answer. It is astonishing that he chose to denigrate in public the excellent work of TIAA.

Councillor Radley Insisted he gave “Honest and Full” Answers at All Times

During the discussion, Councillor James “It’s only rhetoric” Radley claimed that he gave “honest and full” answers that were “full and accurate” reflections of the facts.

We have to take issue with this statement. In July 2021 we asked a number of questions about Shapley Heath finances. In particular we asked about £63.7K of spending against a zero budget. We also asked about the apparent lack of financial controls governing transfers from reserves and advertising contracts that exceeded the external consultants budget. He also gave a false answer to the reason why they overspent on staff costs in FY20/21.

Councillor Radley defended the financial controls of the Council yet the Audit Report said there was:

  • No evidence to suggest that the project was financially managed appropriately.
  • Little financial monitoring information presented to members and some of that was inaccurate.

Therefore we have to come to the conclusion that Councillor Radley’s answers were nothing more than rhetoric and his statement at Cabinet was nothing more than getting his excuses in early.

Facilitated Reflection Transforms Into Independent Inquiry

The paper they discussed recommended they approve a proposal to review project governance, financial controls and reporting by holding

“an independently facilitated reflection (perhaps supported by the LGA) that recognise[s] both the positives as well as any short comings in the application of the governance arrangements associated with the project”.

However, during the course of the meeting the “Facilitated Reflection” transformed first into an “Investigation” and then into an “Independent Inquiry”.

We can only interpret this subtle change of terminology as an attempt to kick the can down the road. The Audit Report itself was the independent inquiry. The report has been published. The conclusions were clear and damning. They shouldn’t need new investigations or inquiries. Now is the time for action and for those responsible to fall on their swords.

Why Talk About Process and Not Content?

Councillor Radley tried to explain why the Cabinet was only talking about “Process” matters and spent no time at all talking about the content of the Audit Report (except to deny the findings).

Apparently, there are new investigations under way, one of them the “Facilitated Reflection” instigated by Cabinet. We might hazard our own guess why they refuse to discuss the content of the report. It is obvious that it would be too painful to face up to their own failures and take responsibility. Kicking off new activities allows them to avoid responsibility for now, hoping that we all forget about it and they can carry on as normal.

Failed to Set a Budget for Facilitated Reflection

As if to indicate their desire for things to go back to the old normal, they failed to set an actual budget for the Facilitated Reflection/Investigation/Independent Inquiry, other than to be reassured it would be funded from the legal budget.

Several of the many criticisms made in the Shapley Heath Audit Report related to the lack of financial controls and inadequate reporting. Surely, one of the basic building blocks of financial control is to set a budget at the outset against which performance can be measured.

It is clear they have learned nothing yet from this debacle.

Full Video of Shapley Heath Audit Item on Cabinet Agenda September 2022

Hart have stopped their videos being embedded on other sites. However, you can watch the item in full by following the link below: