This week the Commercial & Investment Committee (C&ICom) at the County Council voted to sell a parcel of land previously earmarked for the CREATE project and as a result to lose access to £1million of Art’s Council funding.
The CREATE, Centre for Research and Engagement in Arts, Technology and Education, project would convert a redundant CCC site adjacent to St Luke’s Primary School off Histon Road in Cambridge into a centre for digital music. It is one of three such centres envisioned by Cambridgeshire Music. The other two are in Huntingdon, already in place, and Wisbech, also planned. The project has been approved by the Children and Young People’s Committee and by the General Purposes Committee. A grant of £1million has been secured from the Arts Council towards funding.
In April the GPC referred the project to C&ICom to assess whether or not this would be a good use of this land. It also decided to set up a task force to manage the project, it did not, and for there to be feedback to it on progress in September which did not happen.
Notwithstanding the possibility that this might have been the right commercial decision the process whereby it was reached was deeply flawed.
The debate at the Committee focussed only on the project itself: whether or not a physical location was necessary, whether or not it should be in Cambridge, whether or not it could really work in this location. All of these questions have been addressed by the other committees. The only issue that C&ICom should have debated was ‘is this a good use of this asset or should it be used for something else?’. That’s largely a commercial decision and no (I repeat no) commercial information was presented at the meeting. There was no side by side economic comparison of the two alternatives.
The vote doesn’t matter (Lib Dems and Labour for the project, Tories in favour of simply selling the land). What matters is that the Committee didn’t do its job. It did not make a commercial decision but simply second guessed other decisions already made by people better qualified to do so.
This decision should be the subject of a call-in but the Council’s constitution doesn’t allow that. Alternatively an enlightened Chair might choose to revisit it but that’s not allowed either. Is this then a matter for the monitoring officer because the Committee has manifestly failed to do its job? Or is it a matter for judicial review?