CCH They Don’t Like It Up Em

Local political party, Completely Concrete Community Campaign Hart (CCH) have been sent into disarray after our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena took them to task over their lack of a regeneration strategy.

Origins of the CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em Saga

Back in the summer, CCH published a post on their Facebook page saying they had written to our MP to ask about Hart’s housing numbers. They promised to “post any response we receive in due course”.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Post about letter to Ranil

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Post about letter to Ranil

Months passed and CCH went very quiet. A number of people asked politely what had happened to the response. Eventually it came to light that Ranil had answered their letter but CCH was reneging on their promise to publish it. Apparently, Ranil had not answered their question in the way they wanted. Apparently, CCH can renege on promises if things don’t go their way.

Follow Up from Concerned Resident

We understand that a concerned resident contacted Ranil with what they thought were similar questions. Recently the, resident received a reply (shown in full below) that took CCH to task. Ranil felt CCH were “passing the buck” and not getting on with the job they were elected to do.  He also lamented their focus on buying up office buildings outside of the district. He was clearly disappointed that CCH are focused on the ill-fated Shapley Heath green field project to deliver more houses than are actually needed. He pointed out that CCH and the Lib Dems are not showing any leadership around regeneration of our urban centres.

The post related to this response from Ranil can be found here.

Response from CCH – They Don’t Like it Up Em

This has prompted a childish response from CCH, accusing We Heart Hart of being “Facebook collaborators”, whatever that means. We had no involvement in the letter to or response from Ranil.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

They gave a long diatribe about the Brownfield Register, which mostly contains sites that have planning permission, some of which have already been built. Indeed there’s 3,600-3,800 homes identified compared to the meagre 400 we were told were possible in 2015. It is clear the council systematically underestimates the brownfield capacity of the district.

The Civic Quarter is conspicuously missing from the Brownfield register. This site is in public ownership and Hart have been trying to pull together a plan for its regeneration for at least two years. Like with the Shapley Heath project, they have delivered nothing. If the Council can’t even be bothered to put its own land on the brownfield register, what hope is there to persuade developers that they are serious about regeneration?

They also stated that the Hart Shopping Centre was not available for regeneration. This is clearly nonsense. We helped publicise a potential scheme back in 2018. This could have delivered hundreds of new homes and cultural facilities, without a penny of public money. The reason the project has not moved forward is that nobody from Hart Council would meet with representatives of the owners. Again, if the Council won’t take the initiative when an opportunity is presented to them on a plate, then they won’t get anywhere.

It seems CCH want to blame everyone else and not take the initiative to get things done. They are an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise, but lacks any real substance.

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Letter from Ranil

I do not believe that CCH’s ongoing public ‘to and fro’ is in the public interest. Rather, many residents have said that they believe it is an attempt by CCH to ‘pass the buck’ from getting on with the job that they have – for now – been elected to do. The interests of my constituents are not best served through seeking to distort the truth, nor making potentially slanderous comments in public meetings.

My views remain the same. I support my constituents when they tell me that they want to see the development and regeneration of brownfield land first. Planning decisions remain for local councils and it is for Hart District Council (HDC) – which is ruled by CCH and their Lib Dem collaborators – to actually take forward the work needed to assess and procure brownfield land.

CCH have contacted me to ask what brownfield land is available. This is a complete abdication of responsibility. My response to them is very clear – I have my own views, I have delivered regeneration elsewhere; I know that councils have all the powers they need to get on with the job, but this is about leadership. They control the council so, if they are serious about brownfield regeneration, it is important for them to be bold in identifying what brownfield land they would like to acquire for development, whether or not it is on the open market currently. That is why I continue to call for HDC to carry out this work, rather than asking me to do their job for them without the resources of a council behind me.

In seeking to be as helpful as possible, it is not always understood that councils are able to buy land and buildings that are not for sale, through Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). This can and, in my opinion should, be a key part of a robust focus on brownfield regeneration in our area, to improve the look and feel of Fleet’s, Yateley’s and Hook’s retail centres. This way forward relies on the council demonstrating flexibility and ambition – they must be ready to buy today to regenerate tomorrow.

Extraordinarily, whilst local people want the council to invest in our local area – to deliver brownfield regeneration – I am given to understand the CCH/LibDem rulers of HDC are buying buildings in Basingstoke and in the south of Hampshire instead. Why, I do not know, and this is a great shame because this money could have been used locally to begin to turn our retail centres around.

Again, this is about leadership. Only a robust approach will protect the environment surrounding our communities and – whilst it is not for me, nor HM Government, to carry out these studies – many constituents have asked that I continue to urge HDC to do this work and to get them to get on with brownfield regeneration, rather than pursuing their current plans to concrete over a huge number of green fields to build inflated housing numbers.

For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to HDC building an inflated number of houses – despite what I can only conclude is an attempt at political posturing from CCH – because it is they who decided to include 423 new dwellings per year in their local plan. This is far more than was needed, evidence by HM Government’s indicative new homes target for Hart of just 286 per year – 137 new homes a year fewer than those in charge of HDC have decided to build.

I will always champion the best interests of North East Hampshire and I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with the approach I have long set out – most recently in in my Constituency Conservation Charter at: – as he recently confirmed that there should not be major developments on green fields. Instead he wants the focus to be on brownfield sites. On 6th October he said:

“You can… see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country… not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”

I would urge any local resident who has not yet signed my Constituency Conservation Charter to do so urgently, in order that I will have a stronger evidence base to use in making the case for this to HDC.

And that is the truth: whatever I or the Prime Minister think, whatever we would like to see, we create the national policy; we do not decide planning applications nor do we set the Local Plan. The clue is in the name of the latter. Local democracy means that it is for our local council to now get on with it, to provide leadership and to deliver what local people and I are calling for. CCH and the Lib Dems no longer have any excuse.

I hope this provides a helpful update on my position.

Hart Sees the Light on Brownfield Development

Hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, Hart Council seems to be taking brownfield options more seriously. A paper is going to be considered by Overview and Scrutiny next week about the Local Plan review. There are some interesting ideas in there:

  • Shapley Heath.
  • Regeneration and Brownfield Capacity.
  • Financial Implications.

Shapley Heath Project “Concluded”

The paper makes clear that the standalone Shapley Heath project has “concluded”. This does not mean they will stop consideration of a new settlement altogether, because they will consider it again in the Local Plan Review. But for now, work has ceased.

They have also committed to publish the survey results and baseline studies. The studies are:

  • Transport.
  • Landscape.
  • Agricultural land classification.
  • Heritage.
  • Flooding, Drainage, and Water Management.
  • Utilities.
  • Air Quality.
  • Noise.
  • Contamination.
  • Ecology and Biodiversity.
  • Woodland, trees, and Hedgerows.

However, the timeline is somewhat ambiguous. Section 4.11 says (our emphasis):

It is intended that these surveys and technical baseline assessments continue to completion and that they are all published promptly as and when they become available. This exercise should be complete early in the new year.

However, later in the document, section 5.2 says:

The project itself is concluded but existing baseline studies and surveys will proceed to completion and will be published early in the new year.

So, there is some ambiguity about the publication date. We know that a number of the studies were complete as early as March this year, and of course the survey was completed in July. The studies and survey were due to be considered by the Opportunity Board in the cancelled September meeting. We can see no reason why those documents should not be published immediately.

Hart Sees the Light: Regeneration and Brownfield Capacity Study

The section on the capacity study begins with:

The new housing and communities secretary has recently said that “urban regeneration” and building homes on “neglected brownfield sites” will be a priority for the government. This is a clear sign that the focus on future growth will be directed at seeking to prioritise the opportunity to deliver growth wherever reasonably possible within the settlement areas.

This is a clear echo of what this campaign has been suggesting for years. Finally, the Government is using similar language and Hart is following suit. Only time will tell if this is a genuine “Hart Sees the Light” moment or whether they are paying lip service to the prevailing political winds.

The scope of the study is very wide ranging:

The proposal, therefore, is that the Council should commission a far ranging and robust study that assesses the opportunity and capacity for the district’s settlements to deliver regeneration, brownfield renewal, and general development intensification.

Examples of capacity sources are:

  • Subdivision of existing housing.
  • Flats over shops.
  • Empty homes.
  • Previously developed vacant and derelict land and buildings (non-housing).
  • Intensification of development within existing areas.
  • Redevelopment of existing housing.
  • Redevelopment of car parks.
  • Conversion of commercial buildings.
  • Review of all existing land use allocations in plans.
  • Vacant land not previously developed.

The study is going to be carried out with “policy off”, meaning that they not apply existing policy designations to the initial assessment.

It seems the work will not commence until the new Planning Bill has been passed. It is expected they will start in FY22/23.

Financial Implications.

The paper says that there are no financial implications of the paper. This is odd, given that the budget for Shapley Heath was £279K this year (before grants), and as of the end of September, they had only spent £81K. We might have hoped for a saving to be made.

The business case for the Local Plan is not included in the potential “Level 2 savings” in another paper put to the same meeting.  This is odd, because it was clearly billed as such by Councillor Radley at Cabinet last month.

Shapley Heath Paused

Garden Community Project Paused







Boris Puts Another Nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris puts another nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris puts another nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris Johnson put another nail in the Shapley Heath coffin in his Conservative Party conference speech yesterday.  The key passage in the full speech reported on the the Conservative Party website was:

You can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country.

Not on green fields.

Not just jammed in the south east.

But beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.

Press Coverage

The same message has been reported in the Telegraph (subscription maybe required):

Boris Promises no homes on green fields

Boris Promises no homes on green fields

Boris Johnson on Wednesday said houses should not be built on “green fields” as ministers abandoned proposals for a vast overhaul of planning rules.

In a clear signal to Tory heartlands that he had heard their concerns, Mr Johnson used his Conservative Party conference speech to acknowledge fears that the countryside would be “desecrated by ugly new homes”.

The Prime Minister’s comments reveal a change in strategy after a Tory voter backlash over planning reforms saw the party lose the safe seat of Chesham and Amersham in a June by-election.

The Telegraph understands that the most controversial aspects of biggest overhaul of the planning system in 70 years have effectively been ditched, with ministers looking for changes that will be less radical but more palatable to Tory MPs.

The new focus will be on boosting construction on brownfield sites, which have been previously developed and are less controversial locations for housebuilding.

There are even discussions about abandoning the 300,000 per year overall target.

There are even discussions within the Cabinet about whether the Tories should alter their manifesto target to build 300,000 homes a year.

This would make sense as the target is far higher than that required by demographic change. The 300K target is too high, even after taking account of the “affordability uplift”. As we discussed here.

On the face of it, this is good news. However, we have to be cautious as there is often a wide gap between rhetoric and reality.

Muffled screams of anguish could be heard through the thick concrete walls of the CCH bunker last night.

Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard Bare

Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard is Bare

Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard is Bare

The latest full council meeting was held on Thursday 30th September. We were there to listen and ask questions. A number of interesting items came up. So, as an antidote to fuel shortages, here’s our report of proceedings.

  1. There is still no explanation of the £1.1m discrepancy in the Waste Contract
  2. They have spent £81K so far this year on Shapley Heath and over £500K since Fy18/19
  3. When asked what tangible deliverables have been produced, there was some embarrassed waffling, but no actual answer
  4. Councillor Cockarill committed to publishing the full results (subject to a GDPR review) of the Shapley Heath survey “shortly”
  5. There was a spat between Councillor Oliver (CCH) and Councillor Harward (Lib Dem) about apparently inconsistent planning decisions in Frogmore

Q1: Update on £1.1m Waste Contract Discrepancy

We asked for an update on the £1.1m discrepancy on the waste contract and our supplementary asked whether it should be officers or executive members who should do the decent thing and resign. Councillor Radley was clearly irritated at the question and insisted that “there are no hidden issues or matters of concern”. He regretted not being able to give a more complete answer. An “ill-founded” formal objection has been made against the accounts and this limited what he could say until that investigation has been completed.

We can confirm that it is us who have raised this formal objection. The EY partner has accepted the objection and is now conducting an investigation. The objection covered the lack of financial controls in the Waste Contract, inadequate budgeting and poor financial reporting. Many of these issues have been discussed on these pages over the summer.

Q2: Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard Bare

We then asked how much had been spent on Shapley Heath so far this year. Our supplementary question asked what tangible deliverables have been produced and which ones would Hart taxpayers be allowed to see. The answer to the first part is £81K. We assume this does not include overhead allocations. Overall, this means that more than £0.5m has been spent since FY18/19.

Sadly, the Shapley Heath Deliverables cupboard is bare. Councillor Radley tried to pass the buck to Councillor Cockarill. However, Shapley Heath is a Corporate Services project which is overseen by Councillor Radley, so he should be able to a response. He gave a vague and waffly answer on what had been produced and no answer at all on what we will be allowed to see.

In short, they have spent half a million and achieved nothing.

Q3: Shapley Heath Internal Audit

We asked Councillor Axam, chair of the Audit Committee whether he would reconsider and launch an internal audit into the budgeting and financial controls surrounding the Shapley Heath project.

He said that “he didn’t recognise some” of our numbers, but would ask the committee to look at it again next time it met. We took the opportunity to point out that the figures we quoted in our question were all taken from Council reports. None of our figures are made up. We have since emailed Councillor Axam and other members of the Committee with the full analysis, which was reported here.

Councillor Crampton Survey Question

The Tory leader asked when the Shapley Heath survey questions would be published. Councillor Cockarill confirmed that the full survey results will be published “shortly”. Interestingly, earlier in the day we received a response to our FOI request for the same information. This was refused. However, on the face of it, this is good news.

CCH – Lib Dem Spat

There followed a question form Councillor Harward about apparent inconsistencies in planning decisions at Frogmore Green. The response from Councillor Oliver was belittling and patronising and certainly not respectful of a fellow coalition councillor. We wonder if this is a sign that all is not well inside the CCH-Lib Dem coalition. Only time will tell.

In an ironic twist, there followed impassioned speeches from Councillor Butler and Councillor Radley. They were about the new Code of Conduct, that basically said that they all need to be nicer to each other.


BREAKING: Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Hart Council have just sent out an email to members of the Shapley Heath Thematic groups. It says (emphasis ours):

All activities on the Shapley Heath Garden Community Project will pause until the business case for the review of the Local Plan is brought back to November’s Cabinet meeting. You can read the full statement on the Hart District Council website.

The meetings for the Opportunities Board, Landowners Forum, and Stakeholder Forum (the thematic groups and steering group), and therefore the publication of the baseline studies and the summary report for the Communities’ Survey, will now be postponed until a decision is made regarding the business case for the Local Plan review…

We will remove the meetings scheduled in September and October, and we will endeavour to provide you with further information as soon as we can.

We were previously told that the survey results would be published in the Autumn. Might it just be possible that we didn’t give them the “right” answer in the Community Survey?

The baseline studies were supposed to have been published before the Opportunity Board meeting in July. That meeting was postponed until September and has nor been cancelled.  Might it just be that the developer funded baseline studies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on?

At the time of writing, there is no news item on the Garden Community website about these developments. However, this announcement does follow on from last week’s Cabinet.

Shapley Heath Paused – Hart Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

We have good news. At Cabinet on Thursday the Cabinet agreed to create a business case to review the Local Plan. An immediate consequence of this is that all work on the Shapley Heath Project will be paused. We should view this as minor victory as it is almost certain they will retain Shapley Heath as an option in the Local Plan review.

The announcement was confirmed on Facebook by the Council’s official account:

Shapley Heath Paused

Garden Community Project Paused

James Radley Announcement

It is clear that the announcement caused them some distress because Councillor Radley’s statement was virtually unintelligible. It included the words:

We should look to generate a business case for the cost benefit analysis of starting to commence the preparation for the next local plan review. A new settlement can continue to be investigated along with other options such as urban intensification as part of the LP.
If the Government sticks to its prior guidance on Planning Reform, a review of the Local Plan will be a mandatory requirement. So it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Local Plan review will go ahead.
It was left to Councillor Cockarill at the meeting to make clear that the consequence of this decision will be to pause the existing Shapley Heath project. The full discussion at Cabinet can be seen on the video below:

Shapley Heath Paused: Campaign Impact

It is always difficult to know exactly what impact our campaign has on the Council. However, we will claim some credit for this outbreak of common sense.

We called for a review of the Local Plan back in January. It’s taken 8 months, but finally they have taken some notice.

We have of course highlighted the level of spending on Shapley Heath on many occasions recently.



Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger

There’s good news, bad news and some downright ugly news in the latest Medium Term Financial Strategy reported to Overview and Scrutiny. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger - Updated Medium Term Financial Strategy

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger – Updated Medium Term Financial Strategy

The projected deficits have risen since last reported in July in the Statement of Accounts. The deficit for FY22/23 has risen from £1,175K to £1,214K. In FY23/24 the deficit is now projected at £1,569K, up from £1,413K.

Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

Hart Council MTFS Statement of Accounts July 2021

Analysis of the differences shows some worrying trends.

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger MTFS Comparison

Hart MTFS Comparison

Commercial income for each of those years has grown by over £700K. In addition, they are also forecasting higher New Homes Bonus receipts and more grants.  Income from Council Tax and Business Rates is virtually unchanged. However, the extra income is more than offset by ballooning costs.

Hart Financial Black Hole: Good News

The good news is that the Council are starting to get to grips with the problem and have started to identify savings. So far, they have identified two levels of saving. Level 1 is apparently relatively easy, and if they manage to implement all of their ideas they will save £335K per year. However, we don’t think spending saved grant money or capitalising expenditure are real savings.

Level One Savings

Level One Savings

If they manage to implement the Level 2 savings, they would achieve a further £467K of savings each year.

Level Two Savings

Level Two Savings

This is a welcome first step. However, even if they implement all of the identified savings, they total up to only £802K. This is much less than the deficits in each year. So, there’s still a very long way to go to balance the budget.

Hart Financial Black Hole: Ugly News

The ugly news is that cutting the disastrous Shapley Heath project doesn’t even feature as a potential saving. That’s right, the Council finances are sinking into the abyss, but they still plan to carry on squandering more and more of our money on a totally unnecessary project.

The other ugly news is that they are now projecting a surplus for this financial year of £117K. If that sounds odd, read on. On the face of it, this is a big improvement on the £381K deficit assumed in the original budget. The surplus comes because they are now going to receive extra commercial income from the office block they recently purchased in Basingstoke. This is weird because the projection conveniently ignores the £776K adverse variance they (almost) reported in the Full Year forecast paper presented to the same meeting. They are dressing up a deteriorating deficit as a surplus. It seems they can show only good news in the MTFS and totally ignore the bad news. Another ugly, shambolic financial report.


How many years of Shapley Heath Construction Traffic?

One point that doesn’t get much attention is how long will we have to endure jams of construction traffic if Shapley Heath goes ahead?

The first clue comes from the latest housing trajectory that was published as part of the latest bid for funding.

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

This shows construction starting in 2024 and running to 2040, or 16 years. Roadworks, traffic jams, noise and pollution for sixteen long years. Longer if support from Homes England stops.

However, the build rate is far higher than Hart’s total annual requirement. Proponents of Shapley Heath say that the build rate will be constrained at or below the overall annual requirement. If the maximum rate of build is constrained to the 286dpa requirement, then 5,000 houses will until 2043, or 19 years.

As we know, the developers aren’t content with “only” 5,000 houses. If Shapley Heath is built out to fulfill their ambition of  10,000, then they won’t finish building until 2060. 36 years of continuous disruption.

Shapley Heath Construction Traffic

Lightwood Strategic Shapley Heath 10000

Can somebody explain how 16 or 36 years of continuous building will enhance the quality of life of anybody in Hart. We are thinking particularly Fleet and Church Crookham residents who won’t get any direct infrastructure support in their area. This is the part of Hart that has the biggest infrastructure deficit. Decades of noise and pollution, but no money to improve the immediate local area.

Hart Budget Gaslighting Continues

Hart Budget Gaslighting

Hart Budget Gaslighting

The confusing reporting of Hart’s FY21/22 budget continues. The continued obfuscation, coupled with an insistence that nothing has changed can only be described as gaslighting. Papers covering the outturn for the first quarter of FY21/22 have recently been considered by Overview and Scrutiny.

The first thing that jumps out of the page is the inaccurate statement 4.2 which says, “The forecast position for expenditure as of 30th June 2021 was a variance to Budget of £2.7m”. The actuals for Q1 do show a favourable variance of £2.7m. However, the forecast full year outturn is an unfavourable variance of £776K, a fact not mentioned in the entire report.

You have to work hard to find that variance. In the table showing the comparison between budget and actual, they have omitted the total line. So, you have to add it up yourself. Below is the table as presented in the paper, together with our analysis that includes a total line. Most of the adverse variance is due to loss of income in the Leisure contract. The £470K positive variance in Community Services is unexplained. The smaller adverse variances in the other service areas are also unexplained.

Overview and Scrutiny Aug 21 Table 1.1

Overview and Scrutiny Aug 21 Table 1.1

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Q1 Full Year Forecast

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Q1 Full Year Forecast

The next thing that jumps out they have chosen to present the “Original” budget in a new way. This makes it impossible to compare it to prior versions like-for like. A new line called “Accounting Treatment”, amounting to over £1.5m has miraculously appeared. This is extra income, presumably from reserves, to offset the additional spending that was not included in the original version of the budget. Here are the changes in graphical form.

Hart Budget Gaslighting: FY21-22 Budget Changes Since February 2021

Hart Budget Gaslighting: FY21-22 Budget Changes Since February 2021

We’re Not Changing the Budget

However, Councillor James “Rhetoric” Radley insisted that nothing had changed in the budget:

However, he admitted at July questions that changes have been made to account for depreciation, SANG spending and additional Government grants. He failed to mention that the Waste Client Team net income budget has fallen £52K and the budgets for Corporate Communications (+£19.5K) and Register of Electors (+£17K) have higher spending even though they are not affected his explanation.

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Accounting Treatment

When you delve into the depths of “Accounting Treatment”, things get even murkier. The first item of note is that £667K of income from interest on investments and property rental income has been moved “above the line”.  Councillor Radley declared this in the actuals for FY18/19 and 19/20, but somehow forgot to disclose it for the current year.

Changes to HAZFEN

Changes to HAZFEN: Commercial Income

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

Then, there’s an extra £1m transferred from reserves, presumably to cover SANG expenditure. Plus nearly £0.5m more to cover depreciation charges. In addition, there’s a previously undisclosed £1m for pension contributions.

Changes to Accounting Treatment Items Pensions and Reserves

Changes to Accounting Treatment Items Pensions and Reserves

Of course, the total employment costs have changed in both directions across the different version so the budget too.

Hart Budget Gaslighting Employment Cost Changes

Hart Budget Gaslighting Employment Cost Changes

If they look like changes to the budget and smell like changes to the budget, they probably are changes to the budget. To forcefully deny that anything has changed is simply gaslighting the public.




Audit Committee Refuses Shapley Heath Audit

Hart’s Audit Committee has refused to add Shapley Heath to its Internal Audit Schedule. There was a terse exchange between Councillor Tim Southern and Chair of the Audit Committee, Chris Axam. Councillor Southern requested that the project be added to the audit schedule because the project was taking up a lot of time and effort and costing a lot of money. In addition, the project was controlled by very few people within Hart District Council.

In a rambling response, Councillor Axam refused, 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.

A video of the full exchange is shown below:

Yes, Mr Axam, we think you are being very naive. You must have overlooked the fact that four different budgets were set last financial year and the variance reporting was laughable. You must have also missed that they transferred £283K to fund spending against an overall zero budget last year. In FY18/19 they spent £90K against a (revised from zero) budget of £50K. They have also set two different budgets so far this year. If this doesn’t tell you there’s something to be looked at, we don’t know what will.

This is not the response we would have hoped for from an independent minded, intellectually curious chair of the Audit Committee.

Weak Financial Controls

Later in the meeting, the S151 officer said:

We really need to make sure that our financial controls are fully, fully embedded within the organisation at all levels, so that everyone knows exactly where to look to find the financial regulations written in a way they understand.

In other words, there’s currently a significant weakness in financial controls that needs to be addressed.

Shapley Heath Audit Three Wise Monkeys

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Audit Committee didn’t accept the need to audit Shapley Heath. The councillors who are part of the ruling coalition behaved like the three wise monkeys.

  • Councillor Axam (CCH) appears to see nothing, because he admitted in the meeting that he might have “been asleep” at other meetings.
  • Lib Dem Councillor Blewett hears nothing, because he left the meeting during the Shapley Heath exchange.
  • Councillor Davies (CCH) says nothing during the entire exchange about Shapley Heath.

Transcript of Shapley Heath Audit Item

The video of the full meeting can be found on Hart’s Live Streaming YouTube site. Although, be quick because the recordings have a habit of disappearing. The full transcript of the Shapley Heath item can be found below:

Tim Southern

We’re spending a lot of time, effort on the Shapley Heath plan, what audit controls are being put on the team to ensure t is being properly controlled?

Emma Foy

In terms of…We’ve got internal controls across the organisation around budget management, budget monitoring, virement, budget approvals and council standing orders and financial regulation. We don’t have Shapley heath as a specific element within our audit plan this year. That maybe revisited at another time or in the future. But Shapley Heath like any other department or project in the Council is subject to the same element of budget monitoring and approval than than any other.

Tim Southern

We are actually in the Council putting in an enormous amount of time and effort into it. Do you not think that we should really be controlling this and auditing it properly and making sure that the funds are actually being managed properly? Because there are big question marks about Shapley Heath and I really do think it should be one of the things you should be auditing in the Planning Performance Plan.

Emma Foy

So we can take…At the moment Shapley Heath is managed not by that Place Team but separately by the Joint Chief Executives. So it doesn’t form part of the Planning Department. I completely acknowledge that it’s all part…

Tim Southern

That sounds like good reason to audit it.

Chris Axam

If I can just come in for one second. I can understand your concerns Tim, I think they are valid in the sense that obviously money which we are spending as taxpayers we need to make sure that it’s being spent wisely. However, I am not quite sure I am not quite sure how you would audit something like Shapley Heath. Other than to say, as I understand it that the funds which have been allocated, the £500K which the Council has committed over a period of three years is not, you know exceeded in the sense that we look to spend one third of it and as the project goes along.

But I am not sure exactly how you could audit much more. Because much of it is I think is exploratory in terms of looking. It’s engaging with obviously outside people and running the project itself. 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. I think the more information you get about it the better. But I think there’s nothing to, you know, be kept away from people but the money needs to be properly spent I agree with you there.

Tim Southern

I think perhaps we should consider it into the future because it is a major investment of this organisation at the moment and I think that we should make sure that the money is being set under control. Under control. I wasn’t worried about the spending of the money provided it is controlled and that’s the audit function.

Chris Axam

Yeah, but I can’t you know. 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. And they would have to go and come back obviously to Full Council I think, we certainly to Cabinet to say “Look, we’re progressing with this, it’s gone quicker and faster and better than we thought and we can get other things moving but we need more funds”. I think they would do that. I think that would be a normal, from what I understand how this council works, I would expect that to be done.

So, in terms of audit processes, I’m not sure it’s entirely valid. I understand your concerns as a Councillor in Shapley Heath and obviously how Shapley Heath is presented to the public .I can understand all of that.

Tim Southern

I think we’ve got to be very careful about a very small number of people in the organisation are actually in control of this. And it worries me that there is no external control of it.

Chris Axam

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, in the sense of external control. I mean we have the joint Chief Executive and I think the two people who I think are allocated to the Shapley Heath project. Three people alright. Ok it is a small number. It is obviously a resource hungry facility because at the moment all Shapley Heath is is an exploratory exercise to see whether it has a possibility of going forward. At this stage it’s no more than that.

Tim Southern

All I can say is, that I am glad I have alerted it then.