Audit Inquiry Reveals Council Overspent By £600,000 On Porthcressa Project
The Council overspent by more than £600,000 on the Porthcressa Regeneration project. But the officer responsible for the work says that’s normal and Local Authorities usually spend more than budgeted on big schemes.
Senior Development Manager Diana Mompoloki told Thursday’s Council-run public meeting that her airport project had also gone £550,000 over budget, bringing the total overspend on both works to around £1.15m.
Radio Scilly revealed the scale of the Porthcressa spending at the meeting. It’s the first time that it’s been released publicly and follows an investigation by the Council’s auditors Grant Thornton earlier this year.
Responses from Council finance staff to the auditor reveal the true cost of the Porthcressa scheme.
The project, which included remodelling the sea front, replacing the old Schiller Shelter, building three workshops with housing units, a new library and Register Office was expected to cost £4.3m.
Most of that was covered with grants from the European Regional Development Fund and the Homes and Communities Agency, with £140,000 coming from the Council’s own funds and a further £1.1m being borrowed by the Authority.
However, the final bill came to £4.9m. The Council says the higher cost was due to the loss of the helicopter service, poor weather and the discovery of a live, high voltage cable during excavations.
Further enquiries reveal that £424,000 of that overspend had to be funded by the islands’ ratepayers.
However it’s not clear if councillors were informed of the final bill. And it’s uncertain when the use of Council funds to fill that gap were approved.
Several councillors whom we spoke to before the public meeting said they weren’t aware of the overspend at all. And they did not know that money had been transferred from reserves to cover it.
During the public meeting, we asked Council Chairman Amanda Martin if she knew how much Porthcressa was over budget and asked her to reveal the amount to the meeting.
She said she did know but added she couldn’t recall the exact amount. Amanda told the public at the meeting, “I am a linguist I deal with words. I do not ever retain figures.”
Chief Executive Theo Leijser then told attendees that all the information is in the public domain, but Radio Scilly has been unable to locate any reference to the overspend in any published Council documents.
Cllr Martin said approval could have been made in a meeting where the public were excluded.
Mr Leijser has refused to answer more questions about the matter. In a letter, he has written that, as the Council has provided, “all the data relating to the Porthcressa development project, no further information is deemed necessary.”