Cllr David Sims, is Leader of the Opposition on Corby Borough council and one of those who has applied to be Conservative candidate for the Corby and East Northamponshire byelection. He believes the Labour-run council is failing residents
The Council Chamber for Corby Borough Council is in a building called The Corby Cube. This was a building project beset by design faults and costs running out of control. This debacle, together with a number of other financial shortcomings by Corby's Labour controlled council, has gradually begun to persuade the local electorate that Labour cannot be trusted to look after taxpayers' money. There have also been attempts by Labour to keep the information from the public and we have presented a picture to the public that Labour are running a 'cover-up council'.
The financial debacles at Corby Borough Council which have become public knowledge since January this year are as follows:
The Kingswood Kickstart Housing Project.
This was an affordable housing project used to regenerate a run-down area in Corby. In January this year the Audit Commission heavily criticised Corby Borough Council's management of the Kingswood Project and cited a long list of serious shortcomings in the financial checks and balances on the project including a number of payments that had been made without any invoices and without any evidence that works were carried out for the payments.
The Audit Commission's full report on the council's 2010/2011 audit made reference to the project not being value for money and this was reported in the media. The major criticisms were contained within a confidential addendum which was later leaked to the media. The media presented a picture that the council had mismanaged the project, did not offer value for money and that it had not been transparent through not releasing the addendum to the report to the public.
The Council's former Chief Executive was placed on extended leave while an investigation into internal allegations was carried out. The media repeatedly asked where he was but the council refused to answer any questions. This was reported in the media and added to the picture of the council lacking transparency.
The Corby Cube
The original contract price for the Corby Cube was £21 million, with a target budget of £16M. The council budget at the time of first reporting to committee was £35 million. The total cost of the project has now risen to £48 million and is expected to rise further.
There were also serious design flaws with the Corby Cube including fire safety concerns, meaning that the 3rd and 4th floors can not now be used for public access as was originally intended. The building's fire safe capacity was supposed to be circa 3,000 but is in fact approximately 1,500. The building has never received a building regulations certificate.
The council chamber is not sound proof and has a permanently leaking roof. There is a helical staircase connecting the 2nd floor to the 4th floor and this has been described by the building inspectors as 'dangerous, like a helter skelter'. The main staircase is capable of carrying 400 people but leads to doors only capable of letting 200 people out.
The theatre was originally built without a box office and the library has disappointed many local residents. It has been positioned in a corridor and is not suitable for disabled users.
The Cube is notorious for having vast areas of wasted space and has problems with the heating in winter and with its water supply. The interior has an unfinished look and the public were promised access to a roof garden and to a 4th floor restaurant however these will now never be accessible to the public due to fire safety issues.
The building's exterior cladding only has a lifespan of 15 years and there is no sinking fund in place for the Cube. The council has admitted that it cannot afford the long term upkeep of the building.
Last year a report was commissioned by the council into what went wrong. The report was incredibly damning and was released to councillors but not to the public. The report contained interviews with many individuals including elected councillors, however the names of the interviewees were blocked out of the report.
The Conservative Group publically criticised the council for this as they had failed to publish councillors' names and had therefore restricted accountability.
The report was only released to the public last month and during the interim period between the report being commissioned and being released the council was very heavily criticised in the media for failing to deliver transparency and for 'covering up' over the Cube.
The version of the report which has now been revealed to the public is heavily redacted and the council has again been accused of 'covering up' over the project.
The report accuses the Labour Group of 'weak political governance' and indicates that financial information was suppressed for political purposes ahead of the 2011 local election.
The Audit Commission is now investigating the Cube project and its report is expected in the future.
Corby Town Football Club
The local football club was struggling financially and the council therefore agreed to bring forward grant payments and offer a further grant payment. The report to the council's policy committee showed that the council's former Chief Executive and former Leader had illegally signed the council up as guarantor to a £60,000 brewery loan to Corby Town Football Club, without committee approval. The media reported upon the illegal loan and criticised the council for not having previously released the information, again attacking it over transparency.
Another major council project, the construction of a three phase sports complex and football ground, has come in significantly over-budget. As a result the council reported that it could not afford to complete the third phase and additional sums of taxpayers' money had to be committed for this to be achieved. The Audit Commission is currently investigating the project and a report is expected in the future.
Misleading the Public
When the story broke that the council had suppressed financial information for political purposes, the Labour Leader of the Council went on BBC Radio Northampton and said that there is "no evidence of information being suppressed."
The Conservatives called upon him to resign for misleading the public. Upon the public version of the report being published it was revealed that information was indeed suppressed for political purposes and as a result the Conservatives have renewed the call for the Leader's resignation.
In their failure to provide value for money or transparency and accountability the Labour Party in Corby have demonstrated contempt for the Council Taxpayer. Voters in the forthcoming byelection should judge them by the reality of their record locally.