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:





Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility for Shapley Heath Debacle

At last week’s Council meeting, the Cabinet was determined to distance itself from the findings of the Shapley Heath Audit Report. Cabinet member for Place, Lib Dem Councillor Graham Cockarill was determined to say, in the words of Shaggy, “It Wasn’t Me”, despite being caught red handed screwing us all over with his mismanagement of the project and its finances.

Cockarill and Leader Dave Neighbour faced a barrage of 10 questions from Tory leader Anne Crampton and Councillor Spencer Farmer. Before we go through the detail of the questions and answers, the main summary points are highlighted below.

Summary of Main Points from Council Questions

Councillor Cockarill Refused to Resign over his Mishandling of the Project

When asked by Councillor Crampton if he would resign over the mishandling of the Shapley Heath project he refused. Councillor Cockarill said he was working on information available to everyone at the time. He said that “none of the information that I saw gave me cause for huge concern”.  He hadn’t been given a budget for the 21/22 year and no detailed project plan. What more would it take for him to notice something awry?

Outright Lies about the Criticisms of the Audit Report

The decision not to use Hart’s standard reporting templates was all Homes England’s fault. Councillor Cockarill lied when he said the Audit Report made no criticism of the project management and reporting processes themselves. In fact they made the following criticisms:

  • 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.

It would be quite remarkable if Homes England mandated that they should run the project in such a lackadaisical manner.

Cockarill Claims Project Met Primary Objective

Councillor Cockarill denied the Audit Report finding that the project had not delivered any of its milestones. He even made the extraordinary claim that the project had met its primary objective. We can think of no other words to describe this statement, other than outright lie. As a reminder, the stated objectives of the project were to “establish a vision for a Garden Community and evidence whether such a vision is both viable and deliverable”. Where’s the Vision? Where is the evidence to support viability or deliverability? They are relying on the 10 reports produced and funded by the developers. None of these are definitive as we shall demonstrate in another post. None of the £820K spent was used to produce those reports.

Cabinet Effectively Going to Mark Its Own Homework

The Audit Committee has asked Cabinet to “review the application of project governance and financial controls and reporting”. Four members of Cabinet, including the Leader and Deputy Leader sat on the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board. In effect, the Cabinet has been asked to investigate its own role in this debacle.  Despite appearances to the contrary, Councillor Neighbour insisted that they weren’t marking their own homework.

False Claim About Covid Impact

They didn’t hold the quarterly meetings of the Opportunity Board after March 2021 because of Covid. This is despite the Covid restrictions being gradually lifted through out this time. It should be noted that Full Council meetings took place in February, April, May and July 2021. Cabinet meetings also took place in February, March, April, June and July 2021. There is no Covid excuse for not scheduling the Opportunity Board meeting in July 2021.

Officers Spent Without Authority and to Blame for Not Supplying Key Documents

Councillor Cockarill blamed Hart Officers who did not circulate the FY2021/22 budget as promised after the March 2021 Opportunity Board Meeting. However, it is clear that he made no attempt to intervene when said documents were not forthcoming. He therefore cancelled the scheduled July 2021 meeting. At no point was the 2021/22 budget and project plan approved by the Opportunity Board. In effect, it looks like the Officers continued spending despite having no formal authority to do so and Cockarill did nothing to stop them.

Opportunity Board Members to Blame for Project Continuing Without Proper Authority

Councillor Cockarill claimed that nobody from the Council or the Opportunity Board raised any issues about the project with him. In effect, he as chair of the Opportunity Board is absolved of responsibility because nobody told him to take action. Three of those Board members were his fellow Cabinet members (as well as three other Councillors, two Tories and one Independent). As a result, all of the 2021/22 expenditure was incurred without authority being granted by the Opportunity Board. We can’t speak for the actions or inaction of Councillors. However, we did warn before and during the Budget Meeting in February 2021 that the “bloated cost structure is completely indefensible” and that the project was set up to fail.

Dodgy Claims About the Level of Spending

Councillor Cockarill claimed that £298K has been transferred back to reserves from the Shapley Heath project, despite the latest financial report for 2021/22 showing that £367K was transferred from the Shapley Heath earmarked reserves. He had no evidence to support his claim and could not produce a report of the time spent on the project by each officer involved, so they still do not have the full picture of the costs incurred by the project. He also claimed the total spend on the project was £752K, not the fact-checked >£820K reported in the Audit Report.

Shapley Heath Project Stopped Because They Ran Out of Other People’s Money

Councillor Cockarill claimed that they stopped the project because the Government had decided not to continue financial support. In other words, they stopped because they ran out of other people’s money. They didn’t stop because the project had spent all of the allocated budget and not delivered anything of substance. They didn’t stop because of the overwhelming opposition to the project expressed in the survey results. The implication is that if they had convinced the Government to continue supporting them, they would have pressed on despite strong opposition and despite not delivering anything.

Details of Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility for Shapley Heath Debacle

We have to extend our thanks to Joanne Balchin for creating the videos below and the transcripts. The draft minutes have now also been published.

Councillor Crampton Questions 1 and 2

Crampton Q1:

Thank you Madam Chairman, my first question is – The Shapley Heath external audits says the Governance arrangements were appropriate and adequate but these were not actioned throughout the project. Specifically there was lack of any reports to cabinet between March 2020 and November 2021. Meetings were not held at the required frequency, even post pandemic. The lack of annual review of the Opportunity Board’s terms of reference and a lack of a review of objectives and priorities as required by the terms of reference. Who made these decisions and with who’s authority and in the absence of of Governance arrangements, how was it expected that those who had the obligation to scrutinise the project would be able to hold the project to account?


It’s quite a long answer and I apologise. Err, the Shapley Heath project was curtailed in November of 2021 when Government funding failed to meet the levels that MHCLG had advised Hart to expect. It has however delivered 10 informed baseline reports which will underpin any future local plan view and help advise the council of a viable option to meet future housing need.  This evidence base has a real intrinsic value that will benefit the people of Hart should the Government allocate the area a substantial increased housing target.  The project delivered very real and positive outcomes.

The Audit Report did identify a number of deficiencies in the way the project had been managed.

These did not have a material influence on the outcome of the contract tendering, nor in the quality of material produced. However, the failure to follow Hart’s meticulous internal processes is clearly recognised.  We learn from mistakes made regarding the Governance and procurement of this project..


I welcome the work done by the Audit committee and apologise to the people of Hart for these failings. We will provide appropriate training to ensure such things don’t happen again.

Meanwhile, the projects 10 baseline reports are saved for local plan review and will join the output of other housing options studies we are undertaking.

[Note: At no point did he actually answer the question of who made the decisions to bypass the governance arrangements.]

[Note: He makes a lot of the 10 Baseline Studies. These will be the subject of another post]

Crampton Q1 Supp:

The 10 reports that were produced by the Developers, they weren’t key milestones though were they?


I have to be honest and say I don’t recall what the key milestones were off the top of my head so, I’m guessing that these reports are part of one of the milestones? Possibly more than one, er, so I can’t honestly either way. Certainly not many of the key milestones of the project.

[Note: The Leader of the Council does not know what they Key Milestones were on the biggest revenue project that has just been eviscerated by Internal Audit]

Crampton Q2:

My second question, the management of the Shapley Heath project did not meet the Council’s required standards and did not follow the council’s standardised project structure. As a result, standard internal reporting processes were not used. How was this allowed to happen and will those responsible be held to account?


Thank you for the questions, I’ll probably answer most of them but the leader will jump in for one or two.

So the project referred to as Shapley Heath was our bid to the Governments Garden Village Community program. So project management and reporting processes, which were setup, were those prescribed under the rules of the Garden Village Community program which is run by Homes England.

It required the use of standard reporting templates, supplied by Home England. The issue of using Home England supplied reporting templates had no impact on the project outcome. [Note: It’s all Homes England’s fault].

I believe both Cabinet and full Council were aware that this was the case when we agreed to enter the project, as was the Overview and Scrutiny Board who discussed the membership of the Opportunity Board. [Note: Now it’s everyone else’s fault].

The internal audit report made no criticism of the project management and the reporting processes themselves.

[Note: This is an outright lie. The Audit Report made the following criticisms:

    • 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]

Councillor Crampton Question 3


Crampton Q3:

The interim head of Corporate Services set out a timetable for improvement of processes going forward, how will what has happened be highlighted in the report being investigated? By whom? And how will it be demonstrated that those responsible for the project do not mark their own homework and dismiss this simply as a project management shortcoming.


Er, so Audit Committee has asked Cabinet to provide a response to the management recommendations contained in that report. It has also asked cabinet to review the application of project governance and financial controls and reporting and to provide a response. [Note: 4 Cabinet members were on the Opportunity Board, which itself reported to Cabinet. How can Cabinet effectively investigate itself?

Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility - Cabinet Membership Of Opportunity Board

Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility – Cabinet Membership Of Opportunity Board

Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility - Shapley Heath Governance Structure

Hart Cabinet Denies Responsibility – Shapley Heath Governance Structure

End Note]

In addition, Staffing Committee is also asked by Audit Committee to review the exercise of officer management control, financial reporting and oversight of the project.

The outcome of these review will be shared with all members. [Note: What about the public?]

Councillor Crampton Question 3 supp Plus Q4

Crampton Q3 Supp:

Therefore you are saying that Cabinet, members of Cabinet who were responsible for this omnishambles are going to actually investigate their own messes?


No, that’s not what I am saying. Ah, Cabinet have been asked by Audit Committee to look into the improvement plan and to make sure it takes place.

Any issues to do with the Governance related to Staff will be covered by the Staffing Committee.

To make it quite clear, I do not believe that anyone is marking their own homework.

[Note: This contradicts the minutes of the Audit Committee which say the decision is as follows:

Hart Cabinet Denies Respsonsibility - Decision of Audit Committee

Hart Cabinet Denies s- Decision of Audit Committee

Cabinet is 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.” Staffing Committee is to look at Officer conduct. [Note: So the answer is “Yes”, the Cabinet is marking its own homework.]

Crampton Q4:

In cancelling the July 2021 Shapley Heath Opportunity Board meeting, what regard did the officers who advised him or the Portfolio holder for Place (Cockarill) himself take of the Board’s obligation to meet a minimum of once a quarter, particularly as there was outstanding business arising from the March meeting.

As the 2021/22 project plan and the costings had not been endorsed and none of the financial information against which to scrutinise the project had been provided.


Thank you Madam Chairman yes this is definitely a question for me.

So quarterly meetings of the Opportunity Board SHOULD have taken place but unfortunately we were hit by a global pandemic, which caused a nationwide lockdown. [Note: This is nonsense, apart from a small gap, Council, Cabinet and other Committee meetings took place pretty much as normal, albeit virtual throughout the pandemic].

As the Council went into emergency mode the plan schedule of meetings was put aside to allow to deal with the health emergency. The March 2021 Opportunity Boarding meeting did have a briefing on the impact of Covid upon the project. It was my view that the July 2021 meeting of the Opportunity Board would not have had all of the requested information, er, to hand. [Note: The main issue is that the promised documentation had not been provided, surely this was reason enough to call the meeting to hold the officers to account].

Therefore, I considered it better to wait for the next scheduled meeting to provide a full post Covid update. I had requested that the Board a budget by email so that questions could be asked. I do not understand why the Officers did not circulate the updated 2020-21 2022 project plan and costings, with the detailed budget information, as promised to all Board members in the Officer’s email dated 2nd July 2021. [Note: Officers thrown under the bus.]

The project was halted in September which meant that the next scheduled meeting of course didn’t happen. Now in hindsight, I should have sought to intervene AND have the July meeting go ahead to provide the Board with at least limited information that was available. [Note: Finally an admission of some culpability].

It was not my intention to restrict the ability of members to scrutinise the project. Now I apologise to members if I inadvertently gave them that impression.

Councillor Crampton Q4 Supp and Q5

Crampton Q4 Supp:

As the Portfolio holder responsible for this project, would you resign?


The answer, No.

Er, the slightly lengthier answer for the benefit of Council is that I was working on the information that was available to myself AND Opportunity Board Members at the time.

None of the information that I saw gave me cause for huge concern and I will point out that there were no concerns raised to me directly or indirectly by any of the other Opportunity board members during this time. [Note: In this case, the complete absence of information should have been cause for huge concern, but he didn’t act.]

Had there been so, and I failed to act on those concerns, then the situation might be different!!!

Crampton Q5:

My final question. The Shapley Heath project audit review outlines a series of significant failings by the Council.

Does the leader of the Council agree with me that the issues raised in the review cannot simply be described as project management short comings, but instead represent a far more deeply rooted example of mismanagement, questionable competency and accountability which must be investigated further.

I’ve asked this before, and I don’t like the idea that Cabinet’s doing it but again, who will carry out that investigation? When and how will it be fed back to members?


Thank you, apologies. I don’t recognise all the points raised in the question, they go well beyond the actual findings of the audit review.

Nevertheless, I am determined to abide by the high standards of Governance, unfortunately in this case, I have to agree the project governance in this case is unacceptable.

As I said earlier, Audit Committee has asked Cabinet to provide a response to the management recommendations contained in the report. That is our process. I must also ask cabinet to review the application of project governance and financial controls and reporting, and to provide a response to them. So it will go to the Audit Committee, it will be them that mark the paper, not Cabinet.

In addition, the Staffing Committee has also been asked by Audit Committee to review the exercise of Officer Management and Financial Controls and oversight over the project. The outcome of both these reviews will be shared ALL members. [Note: What about the public? Are they going to have more secret meetings so we cannot see what is going on?]

Councillor Crampton Q5 Supp

Crampton Q5 Supp:

Could I have a timeline for that please Councillor Neighbour?


Not tonight, you cannot have a timeline.

Er, we will need to prepare, erh.. various information streams that we will need to put both of these in place.

I certainly can’t speak for Staffing Committee, that’s up to them to determine their own timeline.

But, this meeting took place on Tuesday, today is Thursday, I am answering your question the best I can, at this moment in time. As soon as we have a timetable, it will be publicly made available and will all [inaudible].

Councillor Farmer Q1 and Supp

Farmer Q1:

Thank you Madam Chairman. Ok the first question.

Why was an audited 2020/21 never circulated to the Opportunities Board and because the costings were never supplied how was it expected that the budgeted spend for 2021/22 be scrutinised?

Particularly, as the 2021/22 project plan was never endorsed. Who therefore approved the 2021/22 work stream?


Thank you Madam Chairman. Er, so I believe I gave the full answer to a similar point earlier. But for clarity, the intention was to bring budgets to the Opportunity Board, initially in July but deferred to September of 2021.

But decisions regarding the future of the project meant that the September meeting was subsequently cancelled.
I had requested that the Board be supplied with the budget by email so that questions could be asked. I did not understand why the Officers did not circulate the updated 2021/22….. 2021/22 er project plan and costings plan with the detailed budget information as promised to ALL board members in the Officers email dated 2nd July 2021. [Note: Officers thrown under the bus again, note also he did not chase for this material to be sent].

That update was never provided and that clearly hampered the ability of the Opportunities Board to properly scrutinise the projects…the projects..finances! Albeit, this was not an issue that was raised to me by any board members at the time. [Note: Not only did Cockarill not chase, but then goes on to blame other members, including his Cabinet colleagues, for not reminding him that he should be chasing. However, in the next statement he mentions that the Board did ask for more detailed Budget/Costings].

However, I believe that the Opportunity board did see a high level project plan in March 2021 and raised no objections to the principle of the program albeit the Board did indeed, ask for a more detailed Budget and Costings to be provided before it received final sign off. [Note: Contradicts himself in this sentence].

So as I said earlier, in hindsight I should have sought to intervene and have the July meeting go ahead and provide the Board with at least limited information, er, available. Thank you very much!

Farmer Q1 Supp:

Yes, I’m not sure I got a full answer as to who approved the 2021/22 work stream, whether high level or not, the full work plan did not come to the Opportunity Board, as I think has been agreed.

Therefore the Opportunity Board were not able to fulfil their obligations, so this supplementary is, where in the agreed Terms of Reference did it permit the 2021/22 work stream project plan or project budget be approved, without referral to the Opportunity Board?


Very simple answer Councillor Farmer, it didn’t. This is the problem that the project has run into and it is precisely the sought of issue and the sort of question that the work streams that have been outlined this evening will undoubtedly want to know the answer to. I cannot explain the answer because like you, I don’t know where that authority came from. [Note: He was Chairman of the Board and took no action when it was obvious the project was proceeding without any authority].

Councillor Farmer Q2 and Supp

Farmer Q2:

I mean I’ll probably come back to that point but it was noted that since 2018/19 in excess of £650,000 has been spent on the Shapley Heath Project up to March 2022. I quote obviously from the Audit Report, taking into account the latest forecast for 2021/22 this may well lead to a reported number in excess of £820,000 of which £544,000 is Hart District Council money.

Unrecorded Staff Costs, such as Officer Resources used to support all the work streams need to be assessed, therefore, what is the true cost of the project when such factors are taken into account?


Thank you Madam Chairman, er that will speed things up a little bit.

Yes so Audit Committee has now received the final updated figures for the project expenditure over the last 4 years broken down in appropriate detail. The Actual expenditure incurred is significantly less than that initial audit forecast. More in the region of £725,000, er… sorry £752,000 without account of having been taken a miss coding. [Note: Where is this document, it is not part of the public documentation for the latest Audit Committee?]

It must also be recognised that a substantial portion of the budget was actually used by Officers working on other projects and on the emergency response to Covid. It should be noted that the £500,000 drawn down from reserves £298,000 of this has recently been put back.

[Note:  As we noted here, the latest report on overall finances showed the project overspent for 21/22 and that £367K was transferred from the Shapley Heath Reserve. So, we are left in the dark about where Councillor Cockarill got his information from].

Thank you!

Farmer Q2 Supp:

Yes, I mean talking down the costs I’m not sure is going to be entirely helpful and also the numbers were stated £820,000 and £544,000 in the Audit Report and I would have thought any direct documentary proof of those staff allocations with reported costs would have been provided to Auditors.

There was a period where there was a fact check of information and the report has obviously published the numbers that it has published. Should the actual accounts have been different then presumably they would have been reported differently in the first place outside of the audit.

Also the reasons for asking this question, the second MHCLG Bid document stated as an example that the joint chief executive had spent considerable time on the Shapley Heath project and we know that various Officers had participated and became representatives of some of the forums that were established.

So with this in mind, when will you provide a full list of Officers that have participated in the Shapley Heath project and a detailed breakdown of the reported Staffing costs for the project so that we can clearly see which Officers have been fully accounted for in the Costs?


Detailed Supplementary questions is what we like Councillor Farmer!

Obviously I am not able to give you that detailed…er…er..detailed answer this evening.


Can you say when Councillor Cockarill, rather than an explanation this evening?


I noted that you said when, Councillor Farmer. I did notice that. Um, I will go back to our Officers and ask them to supply that information. As soon as they give me some indication of how long it would take to draw up that information together then I will let Council know.

Councillor Farmer Q3 and Supp

Farmer Q3:

Sorry Madam Chairman, slightly longer one but some important facts. A fund of £500,000 was allocated to the Shapley Heath project approved by cabinet and approved by full Council in February 2022. However, there were no details of the expected overall expenditure of the project, no breakdown of expenditure over the 3 year period or any indication of items that would be covered by such expenditure.

80% of the expenditure is attributable to staff costs or recharges and no key milestones have been achieved at the time of concluding the project. Day to day financial monitoring did not follow the standard template documentation, I quote from the Audit Report and was found to be significantly inaccurate in recording actual expenditure.

Particularly Staff Costs, and recharges and calculating available resources and further it did not correlate with the project plan documents such as it was. There was also no evidence to support the project having been accurately and appropriately financially managed. How did this happen and who is responsible?


Thank you! Madam Chairman.

So as I’ve just said Audit Committee has now received the final updated figures for the project incoming expenditure over the past 4 years, broken down to the appropriate level.

Furthermore, a substantial portion of the Budget was used by Officers working on other projects and on the emergency response to Covid and I repeat that of the £500,000 drawn down from reserves we put £298,000 of those back in.

But it’s the nature of major projects such as Shapley Heath that we often start without budgets as the exact scope of works and timescales needed to achieve the projects aims are themselves forecasts!

Full Council agreed, prudently in my view to allocate a reserve fund of £500,000 over 3 years to provide some certainty over the councils financial liability for the project.

By the end of that 3 year period the aim was to have collated enough information for cabinet to decide whether a garden village was desirable or feasible be it at Shapley Heath or elsewhere.

Because the Governments financial commitment to the project fell substantially below that which was expected Cabinet realised that Hart’s financial liability would increase to an unknown limit. But because of the work undertaken during the project, which has given the council the information it needed to assess the er, new settlement option against other potential housing options in a future review of the local plan, Cabinet agreed to halt the project. [Note: Exactly which information is this then? No comparative information has been produced. Moreover, when and why did the Government pull the funding, is it because they had spent all the money and not delivered anything?]

There are, as I have acknowledged issues over how the finances of the project were managed and reported. These are the issues that both Staffing Committee and Cabinet will need to address and resolve.

Thank you

Farmer Q3 Supp:

Yes, back on Governance I’m afraid. The agreed Governance process for Shapley Heath and project was agreed in principle by the cabinet in November 2019 and then fully approved by Cabinet in February 2020.

In both instances the papers were submitted in the name of the Portfolio holder for Place [Cockarill]. The terms of reference were subsequently agreed by the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board on 17th February 2020, a meeting chaired by the Portfolio for Place.

Given that the Governance was clearly defined, understood and fully agreed by both the Cabinet and the Opportunity Board, why did the Portfolio Holder for Place not ensure that it was followed?


Thank you Madam Chairman. The failure to make sure that, that er…. that… er…occurred was partly due to the fact that Covid did throw a…And you can use that expression Councillor, er…. and I can see you, you…., you think it’s an excuse. It is a reason not an excuse.

For a number of years, ……a number of months…. we had NO MEETINGS AT THIS COUNCIL in person or virtually. [Note: This is simply not true. Meetings, albeit virtual were held by the Council throughout the pandemic]. During that period work was going on by Officers under emergency protocols.

I was not, during that process approached by any member of the Opportunity Board or any other member of this Council to ask what was happening with regards to the Shapley Heath project.

As I indicated in one of my earlier answers to Councillor Doctor Crampton had such concerns been raised with me, either by Officers or Members and I had deliberately failed to act upon those concerns then I think the Councillors questions might be pertinent. But as that never happened I’m afraid I’m not going to stand here and take er an undeserved hit, as it were.

[Note: – Cockarill is the leader of the project, but not will to take any responsibility. It’s all everyone else’s fault].

Thank you.

Councillor Farmer Q4 and Supp

Farmer Q4:

Meetings were taking place remotely I might point out from the middle of 2020 but I’ll move on.

Despite spending all this tax payers money, not one milestone was achieved. Who will take responsibility for this failure by the administration?


I must respectively disagree with my colleague, that the project did not achieve any milestones. [Note: The Audit Report clearly states it did not achieve milestones, this is another outright lie].

At the time the project was closed it was on track to deliver it’s program outcomes. [Note: Delusional].

As I explained in an earlier answer a first phase project was simply to evaluate the potential of a Garden Village as an option for housing growth. We have enough information from that evaluation to enable an assessment to be made on the suitability of a new settlement, compared to other housing options. [Note: Where is it?].

When we come to review our local plan. The project has therefore met it’s primary objective. [Note: This is another outright lie. The stated objectives of the project were to “establish a vision for a Garden Community and evidence whether such a vision is both viable and deliverable”. Where is the Vision. Where is the assessment of viability or deliverability?]

Farmer Q4 Supp:

Thank you Madam Chairman. Um, the Audit Report was clear that not one key milestone had been achieved when the project was concluded, despite all the money having been spent, I quoted directly from the Audit Report.

And the Press Release, if I can call it Press Release, the note on the website published yesterday as a background seeks to claim 10 Baseline Reports as an output of this project. The audit was an audit of the Governance, Financial Control and the Management of the project, in particular the Council’s spend. These baseline studies are not a consequence of the £820,000 spend, subject of this audit.

The report also clearly states that the Council did not contribute financially towards the cost of any of these studies, they were funded by the Developers under a collaboration agreement.

Councillor Radley has quoted that residents should expect full transparency in the operation of the Council and it did not happen in this project. Councillor Neighbour, Leader of the Council said that you will learn from your mistakes.

By attempting to claim Developer Funded Studies as an output of this uncontrolled spend, when this Council didn’t contribute one penny towards them, how can residents believe that you are now being transparent and that you are learning from your mistakes?


Well firstly, Councillor Farmer, I have to take a slight issue with inference in the way you have phrased the question.

It was always clear that the funding from this project came from 3 streams. Government, Council and Developers putting their money where their mouth was, as it were, in terms of helping to decide whether or not their er…. um… ideas were going to to fly.

So it’s quite right for us to be asking the Developers to provide a detailed technical reports that if we had done would have cost a lot more than the £800,000 we’ve spent. [Note: – He now admits they had spent £800K].

So I think, in that respect Councillor Farmer, you will have to accept as a member of the Opportunity Board that was perfectly reasonable. [Note: – that was not Councillor Farmer’s question. No attempt to answer the real question about public trust].

Myself and the Leader have given our explanations as far as we are able to this evening of why we believe the Financial Management of this project was not the standard it should be and I would respectively ask that you wait for further updates that will happen before you make any greater judgement about whether or not we have moved on from this er episode and have improved our procedures. [Note: Attempt to kick this into the long grass and wait for yet another report to tell them how dreadful they have been, or whitewash the complete disaster].

Councillor Farmer Q5 and Supp

Farmer Q5:

My final question Madam Chairman. The Shapley Heath Audit report found that the procurement rules have not been properly followed as prescribed with multiple documents not signed, lack of an audit trail for panel evaluation of contracts, and incorrect sending of contract notification and an approximate 9 month delay in publishing contract award results, why was this allowed to happen and who is responsible?


Thank you Councillor Farmer. Right so public procurement rules, particularly concerning large and complex projects are necessarily detailed both to protect the public purse and to ensure against impropriety.

There is no excuse for Officers not to have complied with Council’s standing orders, albeit there is no suggestion anywhere in the Audit Report that the failure to follow these rules to the letter amounted to improper decisions being taken. [Note: Officers thrown under the bus again].

The failure to publish the results of the procurement process in the correct timeframe had no material impact upon the process nor indeed to the project.

It is important, however that the procurement rules are followed to the letter and Cabinet will ensure that Officers are reminded of and trained in the proper procurement processes, as necessary.

Farmer Q5 Supp:

It’s my most succinct Madam Chairman, but when you are spending tax payers money, let alone close to £1m pounds. Procurement rules are there for a reason. In the project the rules weren’t followed.

So why does the Portfolio Holder for Place believe that it is essential that mandated rules of procurement should be followed?

Why are those rules important Councillor Cockarill?


Thank you Councillor Farmer. Well they are important because it is an act, it is one of the first rights of local Government to make sure that we are spending our tax payers money and that is our money as well because we pay taxes in a prudent manner.

And we are spending them properly as I said in my previous answer and the fact that the Procurement processes were not followed as they should have been in this particular instance is not acceptable . Er, ah, you know…As I said in my answer, all Officers will be reminded of the reasons for that and need follow those rules and will be trained where necessary to do so.


Shapley Heath Audit Report Reveals Omnishambles

And now we know what was going on behind the Shapley Heath curtain. Nothing good. In fact, it’s an omnishambles of institutional incompetence on an epic scale. The people involved have demonstrated that they would struggle to run a bath and couldn’t even deliver pizza.

The Council have been shamed into publishing the Shapley Heath Audit report. It was discussed on Tuesday night behind closed doors and finally published in a news item yesterday. We have uploaded it to this website here, in case it “goes missing” from the Hart website.  The findings from the audit report are quite devastating:

  • Despite spending ~£820K in total, no project milestones were achieved.
  • Most of the tangible outputs produced were by the developers at their own cost.
  • 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.
  • Procurement rules not fully followed.
  • Contradictory information given to FOI requests. Email trails deleted.

We will cover each of these points in more detail below. However, given the damning summary, let’s look at what the consequences ought to be.

Shapley Heath Audit Report Consequences

First, let us remind ourselves of the background to the project. They commenced the project knowing that Shapley Heath had been removed from the Local Plan at the behest of the Planning Inspector. He had said that the new town was not required to meet our planning needs. The project wasn’t necessary.

Now we find that they have squandered hundreds of thousands of pounds and delivered nothing of substance.  They claim that some baseline studies have been produced, but as the audit report makes clear, these were funded by the developers. The actual public money has delivered nothing other than a now defunct website and a survey. The results of the survey showed overwhelming opposition to the project.

Now let’s move on to who were the key players. The project was managed under “Corporate Services” and covered material that included “Place”. The chair of the Opportunity Board was Councillor Graham Cockarill, portfolio holder for Place. Of course, Deputy Leader James Radley is also the portfolio holder for Corporate Services, including Finance.

Ultimately, elected members should be accountable for the failures in their respective portfolios. It is clear that between them Councillors Cockarill and Radley did not ask the right questions and did not convene the right meetings to keep on top of (the lack of) progress. Accordingly, given the shocking failures in project management and the colossal waste of our money, we believe both these Councillors should resign their positions. The situation is so serious, given the amounts of money involved, that we believe the Leader of the Council, David Neighbour should also consider his position.

The Chair of the Audit Committee, Councillor Axam also resisted the audit of the Shapley Heath project. This shocking lack of curiosity and desire to understand how their biggest project was performing shows he is unfit to lead the Audit Committee and he should resign too.

The relevant officers should also consider their position. Ultimately, JCX, Patricia Hughes was directing the project on a day-to-day basis. It is unthinkable that she be considered for the position of Chief Executive of the joint working between Hart and Rushmoor. The project manager running the project should also consider her position.

We can’t have a situation where nobody takes responsibility for a failure on such a massive scale. Institutional incompetence barely covers the scale of ineptitude.

Project Spending Out of Control

There are a number of points made about the level of spending. Most notably, total spending is expected to be over £820K and no project milestones have been achieved.

Shapley Heath Audit Report: Project Spending £820K

Shapley Heath Audit Report: Project Spending £820K

The auditors could find no evidence that this huge level of spend had been financially managed appropriately.

Shapley Heath Audit Report:No evidence the project was financially managed appropriately

Shapley Heath Audit Report:No evidence the project was financially managed appropriately

All of the baseline studies were procured and funded by the developers. This means that none of the £820K was spent on these reports. Most of it was spent on internal resources and recharges. In summary, they have squandered £820K, delivered nothing and were not properly managing the finances.

Developers to procure and fund baseline surveys

Developers to procure and fund baseline surveys

Little meaningful financial information was presented to members and some of that was inaccurate.

Financial Reporting Inaccurate

Financial Reporting Inaccurate

Inadequate Project Management Standards and Reporting

They did not meet the Council’s own project management standards. No standard documentation of risks, issues or budgeting were used.

Shapley Heath Audit Report: Management Did Not Meet Required Standards

Shapley Heath Audit Report: Management Did Not Meet Required Standards.

No formal records of meetings were kept, including meetings with the developers and Homes England. Emails have been deleted in line with the Council’s retention policy. Perhaps they were hoping they would be exonerated of wrong-doing if all the evidence had been deleted.

Shapley Heath Audit Report: No formal records of meetings

Shapley Heath Audit Report: No formal records of meetings

The standard of reporting was limited in terms of frequency and content. There was very little oversight at the Board level.

No oversight and inadequate reporting in terms of frequency and content

Inadequate oversight and limited reporting in terms of frequency and content

Note also that the board was chaired by Councillor Cockarill and Councillors Radley and Neighbour were in attendance. The senior leadership of the Council were clearly not doing their jobs properly.

Shapley Heath Opportunity Board

Shapley Heath Opportunity Board. Chair Cockarill with Radley and Neighbour in Attendance

There was no internal Project Board reviewing risks or issues. The oversight of risk management by the Corporate Project Board and Opportunity Board was insufficient throughout the project. Nobody took responsibility for managing the risks of spending so much of our money.

Insufficient Risk Management

Insufficient Risk Management

Shapley Heath Audit shows Procurement Rules Were Not Properly Followed

The report showed that the procurement rules were not properly followed. Multiple documents had not been signed. There was a lack of an audit trail for evaluation panel and delays in publishing contract award results.

Did not Follow Procurement Rules

Did not Follow Procurement Rules

FOI Responses Gave Contradictory Information

They gave contradictory responses to FOI requests and email trials have been deleted. Surely, the email retention policy should not mandate the deletion of all emails older than 1 year. The Council will have no record of long running disputes with suppliers and so on, which would limit its evidence base in the event of legal action.

FOI Responses gave Contradictory Information

FOI Responses gave Contradictory Information

It’s time for heads to roll.

Shapley Heath Audit Report Shrouded in Secrecy

Shapley Heath Audit Report Kept Secret

Shapley Heath Audit Report Kept Secret

The long awaited Shapley Heath Audit Report is being kept secret. Apparently, the report is available to members but has not been made public. The discussion about it at next week’s Audit Committee will exclude members of the public.

Shapley Heath Audit Report Kept Secret

Shapley Heath Project Review Report Restricted

We must admit that we don’t really understand why it isn’t been made public. Unless of course it contains some material that is embarrassing for either officers or councillors. We think the public ought to be able to see behind the curtain and the report should be published forthwith.

This latest hiccup comes just after it was revealed that they overspent on the Shapley Heath project yet again last year.

Shapley Heath New Settlement Overspent in FY21-22

Shapley Heath New Settlement Overspent in FY21-22

The £69K overrun comes despite the project being cancelled last September. It’s quite a feat of management to overspend your budget in only half the planned time.

They have also closed the fund they had set aside for Shapley Heath. They have transferred £367K from reserves earmarked for the New Settlement.

New Settlement £367K Transfer from Reserves

New Settlement £367K Transfer from Reserves


Shapley Heath Audit Report History

The whole idea of auditing the Shapley Heath project has been controversial for some time. Last August, Tim Southern tried to get the Audit Committee to review the project but was rebuffed.  In a rambling response, Councillor Axam refused and audit, saying:

I can understand that people might want to look at it in terms of in depth, I don’t think anyone should be worried about that but I am not quite sure you can build it into an audit plan in the way you would normally audit most other things. I just don’t think it, at this stage I don’t think at this stage it lends itself so easily to that…

Unless I am being naive here, everybody who is working on Shapley Heath knows that they have a budget and what it is and they are engaging in going through a process.

We asked questions at Council in September. Initially, the Audit Committee chairman “didn’t recognise our numbers”. However, they relented after we emailed the whole Audit Committee with our evidence. Then, in a remarkable U-turn, CCH sponsored the paper calling for the Internal Audit of Shapley Heath.

Now they seem to be blocking publication. Hopefully, we will be able to see the report in its entirety in due course.


Virtue Signalling Council Refuses Help for Hard Pressed Families

At Council last week, we asked a number of questions to challenge the budget for next year. One of those questions asked what specific deliverables would be produced from the £250K they have set aside to “tackle climate change”. The answer revealed that they didn’t have the faintest clue what they were going to spend it on or what they were going to deliver with the money. The supplementary question asked if they wouldn’t be better to keep the money in reserves to balance future budgets or offer a rebate on council tax to help families struggling with the cost of living rather than signalling their virtue with other people’s money.

The full exchange can be viewed here:

This accusation caused offence to the Leader of the Council. We’re sorry if the truth hurts. Remember, climate change is supposed to be their “top priority”, but they have no plan. During the debate about the budget many of the Councillors got up to virtue signal express their outrage at such a suggestion. As they expelled lots of hot air containing 40,000ppm CO2, not one of them came up with a single idea to reduce emissions or improve the environment. The Conservatives proposed a motion to remove that item from the budget and instead offer a council tax rebate to the poorest households in the district. This amendment was rejected.

Among the critics of the amendment was Saint Councillor Peter Wildsmith, who asked for the £250K annual budget to be extended indefinitely to tackle the problem. Again, he didn’t come up with a single idea on how to use the money effectively. Now he has taken to social media to describe as a “disgrace” anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him.

The budget was eventually passed with a small amendment to offer a welcome £10,000 grant to Fleet Food Bank.

6 Ideas to Improve Hart’s Environment

We are very concerned about waste at Hart Council. Over £700K has been splurged on the doomed Shapley Heath project since FY19/20 and nothing of substance has been produced. They squandered ~£140K on planters and signs for the disastrous Fleet pedestrianisation project. Now it appears they want to create a permanent £250K/yr climate slush fund to parade their virtue and produce nothing but CO2-laden hot air.

We think if we criticise the Council we should offer some alternative ideas.

  1. The Council has substantial capital reserves. They should invest some of this to insulate better the social housing in the district. This would reduce emissions and reduce residents’ soaring energy bills.
  2. They have been talking about the “green grid” for a long time now and delivered nothing. They should accelerate this project to encourage and enable more walking and cycling.
  3. The Council offices are far bigger than they need. They should move to smaller, better insulated premises and reduce their own energy consumption.
  4. Apply for one or more of these grants to support planting trees in the District.
  5. End support for their disastrous plan to build 5-10,000 unnecessary houses at Shapley Heath. Construction alone would emit 1m tonnes of CO2 and destroy valuable habitat and carbon sinks.
  6. Extend the range of items that can be recycled in the blue bins.

Readers should also note that earlier iterations of Shapley Heath pushed the idea of a locally-sourced biomass energy plant. This is essentially chopping down the wonderful trees in the district to produce electricity. Burning wood produces more CO2 per unit of electricity generated than burning coal. At Drax, it also produces more particulate emissions than burning coal.

The Council declared a Climate Emergency last year. Since then the committee has met several times and produced nothing but hot air. None of the ideas above would require a single penny of the £250K they have allocated to be spent, but would help Hart residents directly and improve the environment. It’s time for the Council to stop the hot air and start acting.




Hart Budget Ugly News

Hart Budget Ugly News

Hart Budget Ugly News

This is the third post covering the Good, the Bad and the Ugly news arising from the release of Hart’s latest budget book. This news isn’t strictly about the FY22/23 budget, it’s about how they have changed the past budget and actuals.

  • They have changed the current year budget yet again.
  • The actuals for FY20-21 have been changed.

Hart Budget Ugly News – Another Change to the FY21-22 Budget

We have reported before on the many changes to the FY21-22 budget. The finance department have excelled themselves and made yet another change to the budget. This is best illustrated by looking at the “Appropriations” section.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Ugly News

Changes to Appropriations FY21-22

The slide above shows the Original FY21/22 budget, approved in February 2021. The two extra columns show the “Final V2” budget published in July and the latest version published as part of the FY22/23 budget book. Clearly, even “Final V2”, wasn’t final.

The first row shows the change in reserves transfers from capital. We’re not too concerned about this because to cover depreciation and is a non-cash item. They have previously disclosed that depreciation wasn’t included in the Original Budget.

The second row shows that they somehow forgot to budget over £1m of pension contributions in the Original budget. They then added them in Final V2.

The third row shows that they budgeted to transfer £381K to reserves originally. Note that positive numbers are costs in public sector accounts. In Final V2, this had changed to a £639K transfer from reserves. A swing of over £1m. In the latest iteration, they have increased this to a £769K transfer from reserves. We believe this is the same £130K that is replacing the Government grant that has been moved to last year’s accounts.

The level of change in the budget defies belief. How on earth can councillors or members of the public properly judge performance against budget when the budget itself is a movable feast?

Changes to FY20-21 Actuals

Not content with changing the budget during the year, they have now started changing the actuals. This can best be seen in the slide below.

Changes to Actuals FY20-21

Changes to Actuals FY20-21

Back in July 2021, they presented the performance for the year in the draft accounts. The budget they presented was different to all other prior representations of the budget, as we reported here. In the draft accounts, the actual controllable expenditure was recorded as £11,868K. In the latest budget book, that has jumped £1.23m to £13,101K, an increase of £1.23m.

Where on earth has this extra spending come from? How did they miss it when presenting the accounts to the auditor for approval.



Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

This is the second of our three posts covering the Good, the Bad and the Ugly parts of Hart’s FY22-23 budget announcement. The four main areas of bad news are:

  1. The Health and Wellbeing Service has been cut completely.
  2. The costs of the finance department has gone up dramatically.
  3. Large salary increases for the Leadership Team.
  4. Above inflation increases across several contract areas.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Health and Wellbeing

The Health and Wellbeing service has been cut to zero. As there’s a mental health crisis after the trauma of Covid lockdowns this seems to be a crass decision.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News - Health and Wellbeing Cuts

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News- Health and Wellbeing Cuts

£118K was the budgeted spend for this year. However, next year no funds have been allocated. The have announced this in quite a sneaky way.  They originally published a summary of budget changes and this cut was not flagged up in the summary. Moreover, we could find no reference to this cut in the papers submitted to O&S or Cabinet.

The cut was buried in the bowels of the detailed Budget Book that was published after the deadline for public questions. We only found it because we were checking that budget added up properly, which of course it didn’t last year.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Cost of Finance

The cost of the finance department has gone up dramatically. The budget for this year is £497,999. Next year the budget soars to £891,958, an increase of 79%.

Hart Budget Changes Corporate Finance

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Corporate Finance

Given the errors identified and the changes made to this year’s budget, perhaps some upgrading of skills in the finance department is justified. But 79% looks like an outrageous increase to us.

Leadership Salaries

Careful examination of the image above will show that the salaries for the Leadership team are going up by £42K. Remember, Hart has two full-time Chief Executives, so any increase awarded to one has to go to the other. Rather than increasing salaries, we should be cutting at least one of the posts. Regular readers may recall that Havant and East Hampshire share just one Chief Executive between them. There is no justification for keeping two JCXs. With yawning deficits as far as the eye can see, it’s time to bite the bullet and restructure the Leadership team.

Contract Inflation

There are worrying increases in the costs of a number of contracts the Council has awarded.

  • IT Contract up 46% (£164.1K/£356.4K)
  • Grounds Maintenance up 24% (£86.3K/£356.7K)
  • Street Cleaning up 23% (£138K/£604.2K)
  • Waste up 10% (£181K/£1,775K)
  • 5 Council Contract up 9% (£219.7K/£2,497K)

The latest figures we can find show the CPI measure of UK inflation went up 5.5% in the year to January 2022. Why is Hart facing such massive increases in the cost of services?

Hart FY22-23 Budget Changes Corporate Services

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Corporate Services

Hart FY22-23 Budget Changes Technical and Environmental

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Technical and Environmental


Hart FY22-23 Budget Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Good News

This is the first of three posts covering the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly parts of Hart’s proposed FY22-23 budget.  The really good news is that they are not budgeting to spend anything on the New Settlement. The New Settlement is also known as Shapley Heath or the Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV).

We can see this from the proposed budget for the service area. The full document can be found on Hart’s website. However, there is a history of these documents changing, so we have also uploaded it to this website, here.

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good – No funds allocated to Shapley Heath

As you can see, no funds at all are allocated to FY22-23. The bad part of this is that we can now calculate the full costs of this disastrous project since FY19-20.

  • Net actual and budgeted spending: FY19/20-FY21/22: -£30,361 + £186,126 + £149,167 = £304,932
  • Add grant funding and transfers from reserves: £150,000 + £130,000 + £130,000 = £410,000
  • Total Actual and Budgeted spend: £714,932.

Aside from some pretty inconclusive reports (which were funded by developers), nothing of any substance has been delivered for this eye-watering sum.

Changes to the FY21-22 Budget

There is also some ugliness contained in this report. They have changed the budget for the current year yet again. The original budget for FY21-22 was published in February last year. The part related to SHGV is re-produced below. This shows a total budget of £279K, with no contribution from Government grants.

HASETT - Shapley Heath New Settlement Budget Original FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath New Settlement Budget Original FY21-22

In July, the budget had been changed in the Final V2 version of the budget. A £130K Government grant had been added.

HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final V2 Budget FY21-22

As you can see in the image above, that same £130K Government Grant has been moved to FY20-21. This is the year the money was received. Now for FY21-22 the grant has been replaced by a £130K transfer from reserves. We should add that we are unaware of any public process that has authorised either of these changes to the budget.

Call us old fashioned, but once a budget is set, we believe it should remain fixed and any variances reported against the budget.  The budget should not be changed during the year.



Hart’s Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control

At Cabinet on Thursday, they discussed the draft budget for next year and the medium term financial outlook. We will publish a post on next year’s budget soon. Today’s post focuses on the medium term financial strategy.

Unfortunately, the situation is dire. Despite the savings they have identified, they go into deficit again in FY23/24. The deficit continues to grow wider and wider to over £1.7m in FY26/27.

MTFS shows Hart's Finances Spiral Out of Control

MTFS shows Hart’s long term finances spiral out of control

Even these projections may be flattering, because they rely upon a replacement for the New Homes Bonus delivering £1.2m per year from FY23/24 onwards. As the report itself says, “there is absolutely no certainty” this will happen.

Hart's Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control - New Homes Bonus Replacement

No certainty on New Homes Bonus Replacement

As can be seen, funding increases in each year. The problem is that costs rise by £600-700K every year. The explanation for these massive increases is sketchy at best.

Overall, they are projecting a cumulative deficit of over £3.8m from FY23/24 onwards. That doesn’t include the loss they will make this year. They budgeted for a £381K deficit and have already raided £1.4m from reserves to cover the loss of income from the Leisure Centres.

Impact on Reserves

The Council have said that the minimum reserves they require is £5.3m. At the beginning of this year they had £6.8m of reserves. Therefore, they only have headroom of £1.5m.

Hart Reserves at Risk - Finances Spiral Out of Control

Hart Reserves at Risk

Depending upon how bad the outturn is for this financial year, there is a high risk that they deplete their reserves below the minimum requirement in the coming years.

We can only hope that the secret meeting next week to discuss restructuring of senior management will deliver further savings.

Hart Council Senior Management Restructure

Hart Council Senior Management Restructure

Perhaps it is time they looked at more radical ideas such as joining forces with a neighbouring council as we outlined here.