Harmony on the surface at C&I

I’ve been a member of several committees at the council during my time and after the heady years of no overall control when I chaired the Health Committee I’m now down to just two viz General Purposes and Commercial & Investment. It’s probably fair to say that the former is pretty ‘political’ but the latter can be less so.

C&I started life as the Assets & Investment Committee and I’m one of the few (I think there is one other) councillors who’s been there from the start. Just this year it’s been chaired by Mark Goldsack who is the only Tory chair whom I’ve encountered who seems keen to forge consensus within the committee. I’ve noticed him on a number of occasions speaking with apparent pride at the end of a meeting that we’ve got through the proceedings without a split vote. I’ll give him credit for that.

However this doesn’t mean that there aren’t political differences within the committee. It’s probably more of a reflection of the fact that in recent months there have been few decisions to be made and that they’ve all been essentially financial and therefore less sensitive to political difference. It’s fundamental that C&I doesn’t really take many policy decisions, they are generally taken by the policy committees themselves and it’s not C&I’s job to second guess them.

This month’s meeting was typical. There were no big decisions to be made, lots of reports just being noted, but there were nonetheless issues under the surface which had to be addressed and to the Chair’s credit this was allowed and noted. There were three such issues this month.

You can relive the excitement of the meeting at https://youtu.be/jUG5cSGVJMc

Care suites, Ely

This is a project which comes from Adults Committee and looks like a good one. It’ll enable integrated health and social care at the Princess of Wales Hospital site in Ely and there’s an element of partnership with the NHS. No decision is required yet but it’s noted that it has the full support of Adults Committee. That’s good so that C&I can just look at the financial and not concern itself with policy considerations.

However there is a broader consideration. The development is enabled by a land swap and there are two related housing developments which are expected to deliver low levels of affordable housing and the loss of some green space. It’s the business of East Cambs District Council to make sure that all this is in order but C&I needs to be confident that that is the case before it focuses on the financials. I have asked for a paragraph or two in the papers to enable this to happen.

My contribution in the meeting is 24 minutes in.

Alconbury Weald Civic Hub

This is the building that will be the new CCC headquarters when it moves out of Shire Hall later this year. As a project it’s been really well managed and is the only substantial one that I can recall being so well managed in my nearly 16 years as a county councillor.

The project began as an office building with some meeting space. As a result of Covid experience it’s morphed into an office building with lots of meeting space. It’s assumed that people will arrange to meet there even though they don’t work there. I’d contend that they’re more likely to meet on-line as we’re all so used to doing that now or to meet closer to the places where they normally work and that won’t be Alconbury Weald.

I’ve been against this location from the time that the decision was made based on some very dodgy data and I worry now that it won’t just be a building in the wrong place but a white elephant. It just won’t be used and maybe we need to think again.

My contribution in the meeting is 50 minutes in.

This Land updates

This Land: the gift that keeps on giving!

I was called by the BBC a couple of weeks ago asking about the CEO of This Land moving on. I knew nothing about it but after a little light digging I got it confirmed so I asked for this item on the agenda so that it could be addressed. After all CCC is the 100% owner of This Land and it’s ownership rights are vested in C&I so you’d think it would be informed about such a significant change.

The papers say

‘Chief Executive Officer: Following three years at the helm of This Land, Dave Gelling has decided to move on to other projects. The board has recorded its gratitude to Mr Gelling for the progress at the company which he has led. David Lewis has been appointed by the board as the acting Chief Executive with effect from 1 February 2021. This is a promotion within the business – Mr Lewis has been the company’s Strategic Land Director since 2019. Responsibility for appointment to executive directorships at the company is a matter for the board of This Land. The board includes two shareholder representatives who are nominees of CCC, as well five independent directors.’

I have two problems with this. Firstly if Dave Gelling is going of his own volition why is he not being asked to work out his notice? And secondly why does This Land and its board, including two CCC nominated non-execs, stand behind the letter of the law and tell us, in effect, ‘we don’t have to tell you anything so we won’t’? CCC is its 100% shareholder and the company is in receipt of over £100million of public money. Surely it’s best practice where shareholder relationships are concerned to show respect and to keep C&I informed and advised of such significant changes in advance are at least as soon as they occur. We shouldn’t be getting our news from 3rd party sources.

The Committee was also advised of a change in This Land’s financial year. On the face of it this is not a big deal and as a one-off adjustment it makes sense. However This Land appears to have been somewhat clumsy and has adjusted its financial year once before. I understand that HMRC takes a dim view of companies who are serial year end changers.

Note in the video of the meeting you will see me chastising Chris Bowden for shaking his head when I made that point. Later he apologised but said that I was wrong, aligning financial years is considered a good thing. He is right but that was not my point which was that, and I’ll say it again, ‘HMRC takes a dim view of companies who are serial year end changers.’

My contribution in the meeting is 1 hour and 30 minutes in.

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