Item 18 on the agenda of this month’s county council meeting was ‘Exclusion of the Press and Public’. This preceded item 19 which was an item for determination from the Commercial & Investment Committee viz ‘Disposal of Shire Hall’.
I’ve now got the OK to share an albeit redacted version of my speech (see below). Click here!
Normally such exclusion motions go through easily but not this time. The Lib Dems challenged the motion to exclude because the subject to be debated in secret was of such import to the community that we felt it important that our deliberations take place in public. We understood the need for commercially sensitive information to be kept confidential, and would do so, but felt that it was too easy to hide behind such an exclusion when there was a difficult decision to be made.
The motion was carried nonetheless with all 31 Tories voting for and the 14 Lib Dems voting against. Even Labour got in on the act but only as far as sitting on the fence. 7 Labour councillors abstained.
At least the public knew generally what was to be discussed viz the ‘Disposal of Shire Hall’ but it did not know the specifics. However following the event I am allowed to say that it concerned the ‘preferred bidder’ and that one ‘was agreed by Full Council on 14th May and that a joint statement will be made with them in the near future’.
I went into the debate with some reservations. In fact I was so concerned about two particular issues that I wrote my speech beforehand just to make sure that I made my points correctly. My concerns were strong enough that I felt that Council really was not in a position to make a decision and intended to propose that the motion be withdrawn.
(I had hoped to share my speech with you but I am advised not to. Bizarrely because the debate was in closed session it would not be recorded so FOI wouldn’t even be able to find out who said what)
Because I am bound by confidentiality I cannot of course say what I said or if I did in fact make the motion withdrawal proposal. You can guess that if I did it was unsuccessful because as I’ve said above a ‘preferred bidder’ has been chosen.
Does this mean that we’ve chosen the company which will develop the Shire Hall site? Actually it doesn’t because we now have a period of courtship to see if all the assumptions which went into the evaluation of the various bids, and the winning one in particular, hold water. If they don’t, and that’s where some of my concerns lie, then it’s back to the drawing board. Time wasted instead of making the decision right in the first place.