Thursday, 8 October 2009

Leader rejects my resignation call

Darlington Borough Council's Cabinet met on Tuesday evening. As reported by Lauren Pyrah in the Echo yesterday, Councillor Williams rejected my call on him to resign in the face of the damning consultant solicitors' report into the Pedestrian Heart fiasco which was leaked to the press last week.

The Pedestrian Heart scheme went £780,000 over budget. Then the Council spent a further £40,000 on a secret report which told them they had no grounds to seek any compensation for this overspend.

The Council drew up a wholly inappropriate contract with Birse which meant the Council was responsible for 90% of any overspend and which gave Birse no incentive to work efficiently.

There is no trace of any contract ever having been agreed with Gillespies, the architects and project managers.

Most of the relevant paperwork was never kept or has conveniently disappeared.

Officers rejected advice from professional experts during the course of the project on several occasions. Anecdotal evidence is available that junior officers put pressure on the lead officer (now "retired" from the Council) to accept this advice, but were angrily sent packing.

The Council misled the public by claiming that the overspend was directly attributable to the discovery of a gas main running across the site: a claim that, disgracefully, was repeated again at Cabinet. The consultant's report says on this point: "The account which we have been given, principally by Gillespies, does not confirm the accuracy of the above assumption and suggests that in many respects the actual incident is a red herring of limited financial significance".

The Council then tried to keep the solicitors' report secret and away from public scrutiny.

So, a multi-million pound project using tax payers' money became a comedy of errors in which the Council was revealed to be an amateurish shambles.

Now, either senior councillors were unaware of what officers were up to, in which case why do they get paid so handsomely for ther extra responsibilities; or they were complicit in what officers were doing, or they were directing what officers were doing.

Whichever of these is the case, it is simply unacceptable that no political head has rolled. The Leader/Cabinet model allows for clear decision-making, but also for responsibility to be identified. There has been a catalogue of cock-ups over the past few years: The Pedestrian Heart, The Eastern Transport Corridor, Tesco, Hurworth School...the list goes on.

Yet no elected member has ever accepted responsibility for any of these fiascos. It's simply not good enough. On Tuesday night I accused senior councillors of having been in power for so long so that they believed that only they knew best. The arrogance of power had led directly to these mistakes and someone had to pay the price.

I called on John Williams to resign as Leader of the Council.
His response was, ''I will gladly resign as leader of this council when the majority of councillors in this council have no confidence in me. I don’t understand that to be the case." Sadly, this just shows how out of touch Labour Councillors are with the sentiments of the town's population.


ianh said...

There is an obvious lack of accountability at the highest levels at dbc.
I am however concerned that the scrutiny committee model means that the ruling party can in effect make the opposition complicit in their actions.

IE, without (apparently) having full access to the facts , the all-party scrutiny committee failed to effectively bring dbc to account at the time of the mistakes.

Now, several yrs on the mistakes and incompetence have again been highlighted but dbc fall back on the fact that the scrutiny committee did not act at the time.

Sadly the politburo within the ruling labour group continue in their arrogant "we know best" attitude despite the ever growing evidence to the contrary.

Armchair Sceptic said...

I have set up a poll on Town liar on whether people believe Cllr Williams should resign:

However, it is not clear to me that he or the Cabinet are prepared to accept responsibility and resign. They are trying to blame anyone else, but one thing is for sure: the voters are not fooled.