What happens in Part II, stays in Part II

‘WE wish to correct the impression made in the New Journal that the reported contract failure was not subject to scrutiny’, earnestly write Camden’s audit committee chiefs, the Labour councillors Abdul Quadir and Alison Kelly in this week’s letters pages.

As if determined to keep the issue in the public eye (at last), it’s one of two letters from the Labour group this week on Camden’s decision to pay £2.5 million to a private company which had felt unfairly treated in a works contract tendering process and raised legal action.

It’s worth remembering that nobody beyond the Town Hall walls really knew about this payment until we reported it last month (apart from a QC hired by the council to explain exactly how exposed it was) and many on the Labour backbenches – and one of two in the cabinet – feel it is a little silly picking a fight over this one, a story in which Camden clearly messed up. It’s one to take on the chin, it’s been said more than once in private.

More combative senior councillors, however, press on. At a meeting of the Labour group, last week one apparently described it as ‘the worst story in the New Journal in 15 years’. Jinkies! Really? If revealing a bad mistake, which cost a heap of public money to put right, is worthy of such status, you wonder what the second worst story over the 15 years was like.

The paranoia anger it should be not over the right to report the case, though, more the ‘impression’ that it was somehow deliberately kept secret… as how could anyone believe such a thing when it was discussed at length at the ‘part II’ section of the audit committee. Part II, folks, is the bit where the public and press are excluded. Only one Conservative member of the committee was present, so this was talked through by Labour councillors, officers and Stephen Stark. So there you go, how on earth did anyone get the impression that the case had not been subject to the most robust scrutiny. Good luck, everybody.

3 Comments on What happens in Part II, stays in Part II

  1. Maybe this isn’t being kept secret, and maybe it is, but there certainly are matters that are potentially so toxic that Camden Council is considering them in secret – such as the activities of the so-called Housing Working Group, which apparently is considering a private-public deal to put all of Camden’s council homes into a “regeneration vehicle”.

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    • Just to be clear on this, as there’s been some spin put on this by Sian. This where Camden current is on funding housing, as we said to her on 3rd July.

      QUESTION 32 (WRITTEN)

      TO THE: CABINET MEMBER FOR REGENERATION, TRANSPORT AND PLANNING

      BY: COUNCILLOR SIAN BERRY

      The Cabinet Member told the Ham and High newspaper on 9 May 2017 that: “We are looking at a range of options for future delivery of CIP and will launch inclusive public discussions about this when we have finished our research.”

      It has been revealed that a ‘CIP Alternative Delivery’ working group of Labour councillors has been meeting since last year to consider future finance and delivery options for the Community Investment Programme, which include a ‘Strategic Joint Venture Partnership’ for all future sites, that would appear to give a 50 per cent interest in land and homes to a single large developer. The different options have been assessed by consultants and their report is now finished but won’t be published, according to a reply I have received to a Member Enquiry.

      A Cabinet decision on the future delivery of the CIP is still scheduled in the Forward Plan for 26 July 2017.

      When will details of the different options being considered by the working group be published for discussion by Camden residents and councillors from other parties, will the consultant report be published, and will the Cabinet decision now be delayed to allow time for meaningful public engagement that has a chance to influence which option is chosen?

      REPLY:

      Our preference is to continue delivering future Community Investment Programme (CIP) schemes directly, building on the £1bn of investment into Camden already planned through approved CIP projects. However, this is dependent on us securing the Government’s support to build more affordable housing and invest in community facilities.

      Officers have rightly undertaken thorough research into different ways of bringing in finance, which we will consider if meaningful support from the Government does not materialise. However, we have no intention of proposing a ‘Strategic Joint Venture Partnership’. We will engage with residents to discuss these options ahead of any future decisions.

      We have been open about the need to consider different ways of bringing in finance, with the challenges and possible approaches set out publicly in a report last year to Cabinet and Scrutiny. Since then, the political and economic landscape has changed dramatically with the EU referendum, a shift in government housing policy and the recent General Election.

      The February Housing White Paper signalled the Government’s willingness to support councils to build affordable housing. This moved away from its previous focus on increasing the supply of homes for sale. We will be asking Government to support us in continuing the direct delivery of further CIP schemes, whilst allowing us to keep control over the type and quality of new housing and facilities and fully retain any receipts generated for reinvestment.

      An update report on CIP will be brought to Cabinet and relevant Scrutiny Committees in September.

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  2. I am grateful to the CNJ for printing two letters the next week allowing us to correct the claim in the article the week before: the ‘Part 2’ was due to an ongoing disciplinary and, as we were able to say in the letters, the discussion in June was intended as first step for councillors to scrutinise before further public scrutiny shortly. The failure of a procurement is a very serious public interest matter and deserves proper attention by councillors, public and press.

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