A sixty-six-thousand-pound shed…

Click here to read the Car Park report

The most expensive shed in the village

The Parish Council’s report on how the car park costs escalated makes disturbing reading and still leaves many unanswered questions.

“The culture of the Council during the period of the car park project was less than ideal. Comments from the interviews of those involved confirmed a picture of a very divided councillor group, who were not operating at all well as a team. There were ‘factions’ who tended not to trust one another, with ‘point-scoring’ behaviours. This was not a good platform on which to run a complex and expensive project.”

The comments above are from members of the Working party in regards the breakdown of leadership and the failures of those who took on this project and failed to follow the very principles they signed up to – their own Standing Orders and The Nolan Principles.

It is unclear how this (11,000 word) document will satisfy those who want answers on how the car park project brought Melbourn Parish Council to near bankruptcy (if that were possible). There are a lot of unanswered questions within the document, no indication on why there was such an ‘overspend’ or how the residents almost ended up with a half-a-million-pound bill – the final bill was only marginally better.

“Due to problems with the construction, and the nature of the contract, the project cost eventually reached more than £500k”

That’s it, due to problems with the construction? What was the problem? How did a ‘fixed contract’ affect the overspend?

Judging by the comments in the report, there were catastrophic failures throughout this project. With a great deal of secrecy.

“The Working Group found many problems and weaknesses in following the progress of the Car Park Project.”

And yet, no one person is to blame only the whole council. That’s taking collective responsibility a bit to far.

The report deals with the failure of the council and those that took part in this project, and rightly so. It also highlights the original estimated cost for the project from February 2014 which was £120,000 and that a year later, March 2015, the costs for the project had risen to £150,000. Yet, within a month, April 2015 the cost approved by the Full Council had increased to £255,000.

However, what the report doesn’t show is why there was an increase of £135,000 at the start of the project in 2015 against the figure first put to the council in February 2014.

Openness and transparency was not a high priority for the Parish Council or some councillors and the Car Park project clearly showed this. There were ‘Mavericks’ who felt it was acceptable to work to their own agenda, holding secret meetings without informing their colleagues, making decisions and sending out council correspondence without the council even being aware.

“There were very limited supporting papers to demonstrate the quality of information the Council had received to inform its decision making.”

“There were no formal records of decisions made by individual Councillors and or officers in the management of the contract.”

“There were no clear and open lines of reporting to the Council regarding the progress of the project.”

One questionable act that the Parish Council took was to give two sitting councillors Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan, both of whom were heavily involved in the Car Park project the opportunity to view the report and make, comments about the working parties findings, before the council had agreed to its release. Their comments or rebuttal were published with the report. Others who were involved in the project were not accorded the same courtesy.

To compound this, the document was released 10 days later than stated at the council meeting held on the 23rd October 2017, anyone wishing to comment were given just 7 days to give their thoughts. None of those who had been criticised (not by name) in the report, were informed it was available.

The report is long in criticising the Parish Council for its lack of proper procedure and how they should have approached such projects. Yet there is little information on who brought the village into serious debt.

“The Working Group deliberately do not assign blame or culpability to individual persons involved in delivering the Car Park project; no names are mentioned in the report. In some instances, job roles are mentioned in the report, but only to explain and interpret the findings.”

Yet some on the working party had other ideas

“The Working Group believe that the people involved should have been held to account if this is an appropriate course of action and may be something for the current council to consider?”

What is strange, is that although they were unwilling to name any one individual, the working group thought it appropriate to name every councillor who was on the council since 2012, when it is said the Car Park project was first discussed (Appendix 7). As a point of interest, discussions for the refurbishment of the car park first began in 2010 when designs were produced by ‘The Huck Partnership’ at no cost to the Parish Council. It was a flawed tender process which put the project on hold. At the time, the cost estimate was £40,000.

What the Working party failed to take in to consideration when including the entire Parish Council as far back as 2012, was that when the car park project began in earnest in 2014, four of the Parish councillors named in the appendix had resigned from the parish council, well over a year before.

So what value this appendix gave to the report is hard to fathom, apart from perhaps provide a smoke screen. Put enough names into the mix and you can lose those responsible.

What we do know from the report is that in February 2014, a sub committee of the Parish Council was created for the Car Park project and consisted of the following council members.

Cllr Kimmi Crosby,
Cllr Rosemary Gatwood,
Cllr Jose Hales,
Cllr John Regan,
Cllr Mike Sherwen,
Cllr Bob Tulloch.

What is not in the report is that the sub-committee had produced a budget estimate on 26 August 2014 with the following breakdown costs.

Main car park – estimated cost £142,600

This price included CCTV at £13,500

Workshop (shell only) – estimated cost £46,500

£5320 of this money was for ‘on-suite’ facilities).
Would a double garage have done the same job?
The Workshop estimate also included CCTV of £5,150.

The price of the Workshop was increased by a further £20,000. This apparently was due to the surface below the proposed building being unstable to house the the Workshop. This increase pushed the cost up to £66,500.

To be fair to some on the council, it had been suggested that the Workshop should be put on hold to save money. It could be built at a later date, was one idea, using local labour. However, the idea was rejected.

Bus Shelter – estimated cost £5,300

Additional Works bollards to Co-op and Butchers – estimated cost £1,300

A £66.500 shed (a term used by councillors in their communication with one another) clearly showed a council that had little concern on spending residents money!

The figures above were estimates since the final accounts were not available. However, the total budget costs above for the work came to approximately £215,000. In addition there were project management costs of around £37,000. In June of 2015 the Parish Council agreed on a ‘fixed contract’ for the Car Park, set at £257,000.

Who’s to blame? Well there are plenty in the village doing their best to say “it was his fault”. So, I guess we will never have a clear picture.

What is known, is the contractor put in a claim way beyond the original cost for the project, with a final account bill of £418,817.88. Within the claim they insisted that much of the additional charges come from delays, citing the architect and project manager as part of the problem. Apparently the project overran by 47 days.

Let’s hope the council of the future talk to their residents before embarking on large projects. And above all prevent the mavericks from “doing it their way” and judging by the report, they were very much at work here.

This was the Parish Council investigating itself. Had in been investigated by a totally independent team there would have been a very different outcome.



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