At the meeting of the Executive of Sutton Council on Monday, Cllr Graham Tope spoke about the business plan for the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre. As expected, the business plan was, to quote one Sutton insider, “optimistic”. Bearing in mind this is only to break even, Sutton taxpayers have every reason to remain worried about the burden that they will have to carry to hide the embarrassment of the Liberal Democrat administration.
Cllr Tope explained that “budgeting is not an exact science”, something that will come as news to business people up and down the country who realise that this is the polar opposite of the truth. Homeopathy is not an exact science. Budgeting, however, is a detailed appraisal of the future using case studies, market research, and an assessment of how best to use a certain amount of capital and income. Assumptions can be kept to a bare minimum by taking a pragmatic, not dogmatic view, something that does not come easily to the administration in Sutton.
The original budget for 2010-11 required £131,000 of taxpayers’ money to keep the fledgling Life Centre open. The latest update shows that they will have spent £190,000 over and above this,
a whopping 145% over budget. This is largely put down to an ‘underachievement of income’, a euphemism if ever there was one. One-off costs covered the remaining overspend. One of these costs was £40,000 for a website. Apart from the fact that this is an extraordinary amount to be spending in addition to the £208,000 Sutton Council spent on their main site, why is this an overspend? It is not beyond the wit of man to realise that a decent website would be needed to market the Centre. Why was this not included in the original budget? It is oversights like this that show why the Council believes that budgeting is not an exact science. You can’t just put a wet finger in the air before undertaking a massive project like this. The business plan
has more space given over to ‘One Planet Living’ than spreadsheets. There is nothing exact about ‘One Planet Living’ It really doesn’t matter how many planets you need to live on if they are all bankrupt.
Since the original concept came about, the Council won a Government grant of £4million. Following this, the scheme doubled in size to fit this extra money, rather than the sensible approach of keeping this vaguely within reason. The builders were already booked to start digging the day after the council meeting which approved the decision. After even the most intransigent fan of the Centre realised that most schools realised that parents did a better job of teaching their children how to behave and so failed to book places, other activities have been brought into the Centre to justify its existence.
- Ex-offenders will come along to be told not to re offend (could the money have not been used for Job Clubs and drug rehabilitation?)
- Council meetings and other community meetings will take place at the Centre (taking important income away from schools and other community facilities)
- A Life Clinic will be set up (No, I don’t know either?!)
- Some School Governors’ training will be held here (threatening the future of the Glastonbury Centre that has already been saved from imminent closure once)
Nick Clegg opened the centre at an event which was mainly attended by the senior management
of Sutton Council and Liberal Democrat councillors. Half a dozen children from nearby Glenthorne School came along as guinea pigs. It would be interesting to know quite how many thousands of pounds of lost productivity it took to have the great and the good at this corporate backslapping exercise.
The Sutton Life Centre is being held up as an example of the Big Society as part of Sutton Council’s status as a ‘Big Society Vanguard Council’. People are struggling to understand what the Big Society concept actually is and this project pushes that understanding further away from the truth. Big Society should be about people taking back areas from the state to be under their own control. It is about people not buildings. The Sutton Life Centre is anathema to the Big Society, instead standing as a paternalistic, patronising monolith that illustrates the real centralising views of Sutton’s Liberal Democrats; Power coming down from Whitehall is fine, as long as it stops at the Civic Offices, where politicians know best. That is not localism. That is not freeing individuals. That is just bringing the nanny state closer to home.
Have a look
and judge for yourself if the £40k website is worth it and the £8.5million (10% of council tax collected in the entire Borough for a year) was well spent
Outraged Sutton Conservative councillors have unearthed shocking plans from the Liberal Democrat-run Council’s finance chief to plunder 70% of money from a fund set up to help local businesses in order to plough cash into the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre.
Budget papers set to go before the Council’s Executive tomorrow morning (Tuesday 3 November) show plans to take £181,000 from the £256,000 ‘Local Authority Business Growth Incentive’ Grant (LABGI) to cover start-up costs for the Sutton Life Centre. If approved, the measure will leave only 29.3% (£75,000) of the fund left to spend on measures to help Sutton businesses through the recession.
The Conservative Opposition’s Finance and Value for Money Spokesman, Councillor Tim Crowley, has slammed the Lib Dems’ finance chief by calling the raid on the LABGI fund as a betrayal to local businesses favouring pet projects over helping people through the recession.
Conservatives are also voicing their concerns that despite committing over £8million of taxpayers’ money to the Life Centre, the Lib Dem administration is allowing the cost of the project to swell and to impinge on other council budgets. The plunder on LABGI is causing particular anger among Conservatives because the fund could prevent local businesses from going under thus preventing further increases to Sutton’s unemployment. Official figures show that Jobseekers’ Allowance claims in Sutton have risen by 88% over the last year.
Councillor Crowley commented: “The Council’s Lib Dem finance chief is hoping to plunder a fund set up to help local businesses so he can pay for the controversial Sutton Life Centre’s start up costs, leaving only 29.3% to be spent on its original purpose.
“With the UK economy still in recession and its impact being felt in Sutton, this is an act of betrayal because the LABGI fund should only be spent on what it is intended for – helping local businesses, not propping up vanity projects. This shows contempt for business locally – if elected next year, Conservatives will never take business for granted like this.”
Sutton’s Liberal Democrat administration is under fire for spending the equivalent of two households’ annual council tax on a pint-sized version of the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre.
Hot on the tail of our Value for Money motion at Monday night’s Full Council Meeting, forensic questioning forced the project’s supremo, LibDem councillor Graham Tope, to reveal the cost of promotional material for the Sutton Life Centre. Conservative councillors and residents in the public gallery were aghast to discover that a scale model for the infamous pet project cost the taxpayer £3000.
The costly model now features in pride of place in the Civic Offices, St. Nicholas Way, ironically situated next to a new machine designed to make paying council tax easier!
The scale of the model looks like 1:100, unfortunately even at the sum of £3,000, the scale of the cost of the model is something like 1:2,800. It’s quite incredible how far the ruling Lib Dems will go to squander local taxpayers’ money. Two Band D households’ worth of council tax has paid for this scale model and we think this sends out entirely the wrong message.
In all seriousness, the model might be small but the principle is not, town hall bosses must stop treating the public purse as a plaything. When we debated value for money on Monday, our message was clear: a Conservative-run Council will cut waste, move heaven and earth to ease the burden on household budgets, and demand that every penny of council expenditure justifies itself.
This is the Conservative model for Sutton Council and all it will cost residents is a vote.
ITV London came to Sutton on Wednesday to cover the story of the Sutton Life Centre. Moving swiftly on from my jauntily-angled hard hat, the parents at Brookfield School said it all, when they pointed out that if the Council are going to lavish money on safety, they would rather have a lollipop lady.
Conservative Home have published an article that I wrote, which you can read here. The Evening Standard and the Metro have also covered the pet project which is costing the equivalent of 10% of all of the Council Tax raised in a year in Sutton.
Full Council last Monday turned out to be the usual bunfight but confirmed that meetings of all 54 councillors have as much influence on council decisions as Gordon Brown does on his facial muscles.
Two main items were discussed, the future of leisure provision, where the LibDems confirmed that Cheam Baths would close by 2015 and the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre. Councillor Tim Crowley, Conservative Spokesman for Finance & Value for Money requested more financial details the previous Wednesday having discovered that contractors were due to start on site, the day after the decision to build was made. What was the point of pretending to make a decision when it was clear that it had already been taken. We were told that even delaying the decision may lead to Sutton Council having to pay financial penalties to the contractors. The requested information was supplied to me and Cllr Crowley at 4.10pm, less than three hours before the start of the meeting. 52 councillors had to vote on whether to spend £8.5million (astoundingly, the equivalent of 10% of all of the Council Tax raised in the Borough), without full details of the consequences of their actions.
After a 20 minute stand-off, the LibDems forced through a vote to debate the issue, without full disclosure to all councillors. Conservative councillors questioned the need for the Centre in the first place, but majored on the fact that we didn’t actually have the money to build the place, instead relying on diverting money from the reserves and schools repairs budget amongst other smash and grab raids to cover the costs. It is clear that this is another case of the LibDems spending money to justify their existence. Residents were up in arms when they were asked to pay £35 for green garden waste bags. Well, guess what, you’ve just had your pocket picked of £44 each for a project that many will not use. Only one LibDem councillor even bothered to mention finance in the debate.
Yes, but we’ll be getting spanking new community facilities won’t we? – Undoubtedly; a new library that is smaller than the one that it is replacing, youth facilities to replace the youth club that was flattened to make way for the centre, a climbing wall that is more expensive that privately-run “Craggy Island” at Oaks Park and the multimedia area to teach citizenship at three times the price of the existing facilities at nearby Sutton Junior Tennis Centre. Even Vince Cable has been to Sutton to tell us that we are in the middle of the worst recession since Sean Connery found a few hairs on his pillow. However, we seem to be splashing out residents’ cash whilst they are cutting back for fear of losing their jobs. The LibDems used their majority to push the thing through, supporting it to a man. The builders are on site. Work has started on the mausoleum to the LibDem’s reign in Sutton.