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grey_man

And the cost of the new council offices is.....

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...none of our damn business. As predicted.

 

This was the response to a FOI request.

 

Freedom of Information Act Request: Bridge Street Development New Council Offices Costs

 

I am writing in response to your email of 30th October 2015 requesting information about Bridge Street Development New Council Offices Costs.

 

At present the final cost of the New Council Office building has yet to be established.  The new council office doesn’t have a ring fenced budget the cost of the offices is part of the overall Bridge Street Quarter Project.  The final cost of the offices will be included as part of a major construction tender process for the Offices, Cinema, Restaurant’s and New Market Hall.  To estimate a specific budget from that Major tender would place the Council in a weak position to achieve the most competitive financial package for the project. 

 

Ignoring the appalling spelling and grammar, this doesn't make any sense, because the council has already published the total budget for the project. As part of that it must have budgets for the individual elements. What is going on here is clearly that the council is using the project's total costs to obscure what it is spending on its new offices. This is obviously a can of worms for them because they're currently bleating about the lack of budget to deliver services. If it became public knowledge exactly how much they are spending on a home for themselves, it would cause them enormous problems.

 

I'll just repost what I posted on another thread: My guess is that the budget for the new council offices is in the range £20 million to £60 million depending on their spec. Might be higher. Might be slightly less. It could be one reason they refused to declare the details of the intended use for the enormous capital spending funding they raised recently. But who the hell knows? What we do know is that the whole Bridge Street development won't break even for 25 years, assuming it doesn't go over budget and the predicted returns materialise over that period. When you factor in optimism bias, this development may never pay for itself. They are lumbering the town with a quarter century of debt and a large chunk of it is being spent on shiny offices for themselves at a time they are pleading poverty.    

 

I assume they'll argue that they will divest other buildings they currently occupy, but as other local authorities have found, that may or may not happen in which case they will be paying for empty offices as well as the new ones. This may also link to the heritage issue in some ways and one question worth asking is why the new offices need to be in a High Street location in the first place. This means that there is both a cost for the new offices and an opportunity cost too. This is prime retail land which means the council is forgoing income and creating a dead spot in the night time economy that is the main function of this development. You might also ask why they aren't moving into existing buildings like the former NWDA HQ and/or the many empty speculative offices dotted around the town.The Town Hall would then remain as the flagship building while day to day operations are dealt with elsewhere.    

 

What is interesting to me is how they've managed to get away - till now - with hiding this expenditure in plain sight by bundling it up with the Bridge Street development. It's the classic sleight of hand we have come to expect from them. As ever, we should be asking where our elected representatives are. We already know that Steve Broomhead likes to grandstand with other people's money and this has his hallmark all over it. Where are the councillors to ask difficult questions and hold him to account?  

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Pasted from heritage thread:
 

 

Steve Parish, on 08 Dec 2015 - 5:19 PM, said:snapback.png

Office block £22m. Savings from closing 5 offices

New Town House

Quattro

St Werbergh's old school

Customer Contact Centre

Rylands Street

All in the report to Exec Board last April.

  

 

Bazj replied:

 
 

NTH/Quattro has had millions spent on them in the past few years so probably still being paid back?

 

St Werberghs old School - Isn't that just social Services now which I thought was now a separate company and out of Council control?

 

Customer Contact Centre - Again cost a few quid to set-up only a few years ago so has it all been paid for?

 

Rylands Street is practically empty these days anyway compared to how it used to be

 

So if the new one costs £22M what are the projected savings from the old ones and are there any early termination clauses for buildings not owned etc etc... and why in this period of Government cuts are the Council even contemplating spending £22M on offices anyway?

 

Steve, you are the main man when it comes to blaming less services on government cuts so are new offices more important than looking after the elderly or fixing the roads now then? or are you finally going to admit that there is money available but you lot just don't spend it correctly?

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There is even more to it than that Bazj.

 

All offices are smaller than they used to be for a number of reasons, including the greater use of flexible working and shared space and the use of more compact and mobile tech which means workstations are around 20 - 25 percent smaller than ten years ago. Also WBC is part of the One Public Sector Estate scheme which is run by the Cabinet Office as a way of divesting local authority offices and has just received a share of funding to get rid of offices such as those listed by Steve. The upshot is that a large proportion or even most of that office space would go anyway. It's more smoke and mirrors.

 

If Steve is suggesting that the Council is about to spend £22 million on new offices then it needs to explain whether that is the construction cost alone or whether it includes fit-out and the office interior. Those two elements would add millions more to the cost (and nobody cares whether the furniture comes out of the capital or revenue budgets).

 

The other point to return to is whether the council has actually sold off the offices it is about to vacate. If not, then it will also be paying for empty offices. Many authorities have fallen into the same trap of selling a move to new offices on the basis of a divestment of old offices, only to find nobody wants the space they've left. Newham Council spent £110 million on a new office but found it couldn't sell  the 26 properties it had vacated and had to consider leaving the new office after three years because it was financially crippled by the move.    

 

Then there's the question of whether the site they are using for this could have been used either as retail space or for other office uses. The answer to that is obviously yes, so the council is deliberately forgoing income because it wants to be slap bang in the middle of Bridge Street for some reason, rather than on Centre Park or Birchwood or anywhere there is readily available office space it could take up for its core functions. The most likely explanation is they think they're a cut above working on a business park. 

 

This is clearly an ego driven decision, facilitated by groupthink. The shame is that we are at the usual Mexican stand off. We can punish councillors at the ballot box for rubber stamping this nonsense but the ones that will replace them are equally in thrall to council employees, which is where the real problems lie. The only way of resolving this perpetual issue is for councillors to appear who have spines and are prepared to tell Steve Broomhead that he can bolster his ego with his own money and instead focus on delivering services to people. 

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In these days of "E"-Councils, there's simply no need for anyone other than front-office staff, to be located in the Town Centre; the rest could operate out of a unit(s) on one of our trading estates; which would be cheaper.  :wink:  

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Think perhaps it went over your head Sid: the front office staff deal with the public, back office don't or can do so via e-mail or phone; so no need for them to be in T/Centre.

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Think perhaps it went over your head Sid: the front office staff deal with the public, back office don't or can do so via e-mail or phone; so no need for them to be in T/Centre.

 

The Government has a programme called Digital by Default which is aimed at just that. Personally, I think many people still need to work in offices but most of them don't need to be there all the time. The thing that tends to hold this back is management culture.  

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The thing that holds this back Grey, as you said earlier, is a reliance on Officers by Councillors and Officer who are happy to spend on ego boosting projects. All that's needed is E-entry points to the Council, which could be termed One Stop Shops, where the public can gain access; the front office staff then directing information to a main back office complex.

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Think perhaps it went over your head Sid: the front office staff deal with the public, back office don't or can do so via e-mail or phone; so no need for them to be in T/Centre.

 Not really over my head. you intrimated that it would be cheaper or the back office people to be placed in the already built offices on the edge of town, no argument there but the point you missed was my bit of a sarcastic jibe at the bus routes that often/sometimes/occasionally run those routes being useed by the council employees, which by the way would save a few bob in parking permits for them to park in town and generate revenue from both the freed up parking places and the increase n the income from the busses.

 

this council is always advocating that more people use pubic transport. be interesting to know how many of tyhe council employess and councillors for that matter actually do so.

 

As for new offices threre are many empty office spaces in and around the town centre. there is the one on mersey street that has not had a tenant that i know of for the  last twenty odd years for a start.

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I think we can safely expect to hear nothing more about this now. You can always tell when they know the jig is up. The construction of these new offices, the way they've hidden the costs in plain sight and the unashamed way they continue to bleat about how they have no money and have to keep withdrawing services while spending tens of millions of OUR money on unnecessary new offices for themselves tells you all you need to know about this organisation. What continues to frustrate me is there appears to be not a single councillor prepared to ask challenging questions. Maybe they do it in private but it's about time a few of them openly broke ranks and started to put council employees like Steve Broomhead on the spot. 

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Sid: property is more expensive in the T/Centre. By all means get Council staff onto busses; but first it would help if they all lived within the Borough to start with, then perhaps they might have some motivation for the Town.

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Isn't there a problem regarding having an office with just front of house staff in situ ? For one thing are these people really clued up & competent enough to deal with enquiries &, secondly, does it just give the real buffoons in the "back office"   a thicker layer of anonymity & unaccountability to hide behind?

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Isn't there a problem regarding having an office with just front of house staff in situ ? For one thing are these people really clued up & competent enough to deal with enquiries &, secondly, does it just give the real buffoons in the "back office"   a thicker layer of anonymity & unaccountability to hide behind?

 

The whole thing about Digital by Default is actually to reduce the amount of contact public sector employees have with the public who instead manage their own council related affairs online. It's the back office staff, especially those in admin functions who should remain office based but possibly have more flexible working arrangements. A lot can be done to reduce the amount of space occupied by an organisation with changes to working cultures and office design. The major constraint on this tends to be an unwillingness from managers to give up on their command and control structures and visible displays of their status. 

 

Given this, it's baffling why the council just doesn't consolidate its offices and house its admin functions somewhere away from the town centre. That is until you realise that the people at the very top want to massage their egos with public money. That's the only reason why this new office is being built.

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There really is nothing like being able to speak face to face with the appropriate & hopefully competent person rather than receive stock excuses via e mail. Knowing the name of who you are dealing with certainly gives you someone to get back to if results are lacking.

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Thought most general enquires (by phone) are taken by a call centre type receptionist; who takes the details for onward transmit; the same kind of reception response would occur in a front line one stop shop. There really is no need to have admin or operatives dealing directly with the public.

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Slight update following the publication of the new budget. Russ Bowden is now confirming in the story on the main news page that the costs of the new offices are indeed hidden within the total £110 million budget of the Bridge Street development and refuses to disclose what they are. This is obviously a lie by omission, because the council knows it can't justify closing down services for Warrington's vulnerable people to save tens of thousands of pounds while at the same time spending - let's say - £30 million quid on a new flagship building for itself when it already has a flagship building.  

 

One interesting point he makes is that the council expects to generate £800,000 a year income from the development, although we don't know what it would be if the council wasn't taking up a large chunk of the space for its own non-revenue-generating use. It would be interesting to know how this squares with the supposed 25 year payback on the development.  

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I wonder, with all that money to spend, could they find a little bit of space in their new build for the YMCA?

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I wonder, with all that money to spend, could they find a little bit of space in their new build for the YMCA?

 

See, now that would be an innovative and compassionate move. Won't happen though because this building is all about the council's status and nothing else. They don't think the great unwashed deserve to know how much it all costs, even though those are the people paying for it, so sharing the place with the YMCA is right out. 

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I wonder, with all that money to spend, could they find a little bit of space in their new build for the YMCA?

 

Great idea... now I wonder if the compassionate forum councillors would care to comment on this idea.... thought not; there are no developers to defend on this one

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To be honest, I don't know that people can make a fully informed vote in the forthcoming elections. The council is clearly hiding relevant information including the location of the travellers camp and the cost of its new offices that would inform voting decisions. There's a genuinely unpleasant anti-democratic aspect to the current regime.  

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Gary Skentelbery, Editor of Warrington Worldwide, interviews Professor Steven Broomhead.

Published on 17 Dec 2014

Interview with Warrington Borough Council CEO Steven Broomhead who talks about the town's economic prosperity,

traffic congestion and even more council budget cut backs scheduled for the New Year.

https://youtu.be/GH0eSfZQJm8

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That's a worrying video interview. Despite the serious hardships to the most vulnerable groups in the town Steven Broomhead appears more concerned with Warrington's sport status.

 

The Town centre redevelopment is quoted as costing £52 million - yet WBC have more recently raised £150 million by selling 'bonds' (to be repaid from profits expected?).

Why do they need so much? In fact why do they need to 'borrow' anything?

I believe it's supposed to be to ensure the development isn't held up in case of funding shortfalls. Would these shortfalls have anything to do with investors pulling out?

It seems such a crazy idea to have council offices in a prime retail location, I wonder was this decision made because alternatives either couldn't be found or have already pulled out?

 

I wonder whether there are already major difficulties with this project? If everything was going well they would be publishing details and bragging about it.

I think the fact that there is so much secrecy doesn't bode well.

Most worrying is when one takes into account the past c**k ups, - the financial details compiled for the proposed Walton Hall project were incredibly incorrect. Should people who can make mistakes like this be managing public funds?

And should funds be raised -which the public will have to pay back - to protect what appears to me to be mostly the interests of the developers?

 

How can anyone have any confidence in this project when there is so much secrecy?

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The answer to that might be in the increase in costs. A fairly typical civic office for a town like Warrington would typically cost anywhere between £15 million and £30 million including fit out and furniture. That would be problematic enough given the way the council endlessly tells us about its financial problems. However, these sorts of offices can be a lot more expensive and my suspicion is that the increase in budget for the Bridge Street development from £52 million to £110 million is solely or mainly because of the council's offices. If you want to know why the council and people like Russ Bowden lie by omission about the offices, that's the reason.

 

Their issue isn't how much they are spending on the offices, but it becoming public knowledge at a time they are targeting the town's most vulnerable with spending cuts. It's how they think - you can do as many self-serving, shitty things as you like, so long as nobody finds out. You can always dismiss the thoughts of people who don't know for sure but have a bloody good idea as 'conspiracy theorists' so long as the facts don't emerge.

 

The driver for WBC is clearly status, as you can tell whenever Steve Broomhead opens his mouth. They are fixated on the idea of becoming a city and to emerge from the shadows of Liverpool and Manchester. This has become more of an issue ever since George Osborne drew up his idea of a Northern Powerhouse on the back of a fag packet before the last election. Hence the endless drive to increase the population beyond the abilities of the town's infrastructure to cope with. It's why there's plenty of money for a new flagship council building on prime land even though the council already has a flagship building and could easily occupy an admin block at Birchwood, Centre Park or wherever, and open a counter in town to deal with customer facing issues, thereby allowing the land in the town centre to generate more revenue with retail or commercial tenants.

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Not one local authority (outside of the London super boroughs) has dabbled in the bond markets for over 10 years, then WBC commits the town to the tune of £150 million so it can buy itself something nice.

They're either smarter than every other council in the entire country, or more reckless, a worrying thought.  

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