Almost a year ago I was criticised by the Leader of the Council for suggesting that the County's £2m proposed new grant to NEP had little to do with economic development but more to do with saving a few red faces at County Hall, because without the £2m grant and having lost its other regional grants from the government office East Midlands NEL could have gone bust, leaving the Council a very heavy financial liability in potential pension payouts. Utter nonsense they all cried at the time.
And yet yesterday at the County Council full budget meeting the section 151 officer (Council bean counter) finally agreed with me! Both the Lib Dem and Labour alternative budgets proposed the scrapping of this over generous grant, particularly at a time when council staff are being thrown on the dole, streets lights have been switched off and PCSO's are being cut due to the continued savage cuts on Local Government spending. So in response to Labours' proposals the 151 officers report confirmed beyond doubt that without the Councils grant then the organisation could fold and the pension cost to the council (which last year they told us wasn't a problem) would be now be considerable! Perhaps it is only a problem when the opposition propose it?
As you would expect yesterday I supported both opposition motions, after all, I am sure we could all suggest better ways in which that money could be spent, after all what exactly does NEP do? Well for a start they have nothing to do with the £200m Northampton Enterprise Zone, government cash for that initiative was secured by SEMLEP (South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership) Nor are they responsible for the £25m redevelopment plan for Northampton's Castle Station that is being led by the soon to be no more WNDC (West Northamptonshire Development Corporation) The Grovesnor Centre expansion and new bus interchange? No that's NBC (Northampton Borough Council) and L&G (Legal and General) So what exactly do NEP do with our money? Well there is that Brussels office they run of course to the estimated tune of £300,000 a year, and a look at their 2010 accounts (then as NEL) shows that over 50% of their income is spent on administration! Not much left for driving the local economy then?
|Palais de Festival|
Jim got very angry at this and informed the Council that NEP had never been there (Well they couldn't have done as this years event is in March 2012 and they only changed their name at companies house from NEL to NEP last June)
He went on to tell the Council that I had initially not even mentioned NEL in my speech even though I used the words "NEL and NEP" in my opening statement. He said that NEL was a "separate" "independent body"to NEP even though Companies House shows clearly that Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership's date of corporation to be the 26th January 2006! and records the name change from NEL to NEP on the 1st June 2011. Two separate bodies? or just the same one? and who sat on the board of this company prior to and after the name change? You guessed it one Jim Harker.
Now gentleman Jim was keen to dismiss my concerns as "scurrilous" rumours, he told the Council that he knew of no case of NEP officers going to Cannes, technically correct, if we give him the benefit of doubt that the same officers went as officers of NEL even though they are one and the same. He also said that as far as he was aware NEL never went in it's penultimate year? would that be 2010? or 2009?
Either or really because amongst my scurrilous rumours were the details I gave about the event in 2009 where guests attended a lunch to hear Kevin Mcloud from Channel 4's "Grand Designs" talk about sustainable housing details of which are here in investnorthamptonshire 2010 MIPIM web contribution http://mipim.investnorthamptonshire.co.uk/contact-us helpfully listing the names of the officers of NEL who never attended (all 8 of them)? They tell us where they can be contacted here at the Palais De Festival where the Cannes International Film Festival vies with MIPIM for floorspace http://www.palaisdesfestivals.com/sommaire.php3?lang=en or even better here at the La Mandala http://www.plage-lamandala.com/
As well as flights and hotel bills and swanky luncheons we can even wonder at the additional cost to NEL of the 2009 "communications strategy using digital marketing techniques including a specially designed microsite, video and email campaign and the integrated use of these digital communication tools" as provided to NEL by Ferrier Pierce Creative Group here http://www.ferrierpearce.com/portfolio/projects/47-Northamptonshire-Enterprise-Limited/
Now I had also been informed by a whistle blower in NEL/NEP that a cabinet or cabinet members had on occasion/s flew out to participate in the proceedings, I asked Jim about this and he said he personally never has done and that he knows of no other cabinet member who has done so.
So let me be clear and fair. I am happy to take him at his word on that score and hope my informer can correct the impression they gave, if they do I will gladly inform Council of that fact and apologise for any wrong information given. But do I care who exactly went on this annual works outing? No not one bit, but I do care that at a time when services are being cut to the bone and when we can't even afford to turn on the street lights that we are giving £2m to a repetitious unnecessary Quango for them to spend half of it on running their administration and part of it on offices in Brussels and annual trips to Cannes on the French Riviera.
And if we can get ourselves all worked up, rightly so about that "£3000 painting" celebrating Tory Chair Rosemary Bromwich's year as Council Chair, then what are we to make of many more thousands of pounds of Council tax payers money being used to support what even the Financial Times describes as a "famously excessive" "Jamboree" They also got it spot on about local council's though when they said in their pink paper that: