No Decision On Council Overspend Bailout Until After ‘Brexit’ Referendum

porthcressa schiller shelterThe outcome of the ‘Brexit’ referendum could determine whether Scilly’s Council receives an EU bailout following overspends on the Airport Redevelopment and Porthcressa projects.

And the islands’ ratepayers may need to subsidise the shortfall of over £1m.

Recently the Council announced that they will have to make urgent savings of £670,000 on their annual running costs this financial year.

That’s despite a 3.99% increase in Council Tax and little change in their annual Government grant.

Chief Exec Theo Leijser had been appointed to balance the Council’s books but his controversial reorganisation in 2014 failed to make the required savings.

ScillyToday has continually questioned Council management over the failure to deliver the Porthcressa and Airport projects on budget and whether the authority was being exposed to risk because of the spiralling costs.

Most councillors were unaware of the £600,000 Porthcressa overspend until ScillyToday raised the matter with members, following detailed scrutiny of the Council’s accounts.

Back in November 2015, Vice Chairman Steve Sims told a public meeting that he expected to hear whether the EU would fund the shortfall by the end of January 2016.

ScillyToday has twice contacted the authority’s press office to ask whether the extra money to meet the overspend has been offered. The press office has ignored our emails.

Once again ScillyToday had to resort to lodging a Freedom of Information request to find out whether the ratepayer would be liable for the overbudget schemes.

In a written response the Council told us: “We hoped a decision would be made in January 2016 but the programme has not yet formally closed and we are now unlikely to know before the end of April 2016. With the recent movements in exchange rates and the EU referendum a decision could take some time.”

In the past few months, some councillors have become increasingly wary of the authority’s economic development plans. These have often relied on grants, with the council having to find top-up cash or money for ongoing revenue costs.

In last month’s Full Council meeting, Cllr Gaz O’Neill warned that there was “no such thing as a free lunch.”

Some locals have praised the forward vision of the Economic Development team, managed by Senior Officer Diana Mompoloki, in developing a project to encourage electric vehicle use with Japanese partners Hitachi.

But a number of islanders have expressed concern that the Council is moving into areas outside their key remit and they’d prefer that the authority concentrates on public services, like Park House and social care.

18 Responses to No Decision On Council Overspend Bailout Until After ‘Brexit’ Referendum

  1. Jonny Exile April 15, 2016 at 11:18 am

    It’ll be tough in the short term but a financial failure coupled with Brexit could be our last chance to ‘reboot’ the Council to something that works rather than the utter embarrassment it is at the moment.

    One would hope that a combination of government appointed commissioners and intervention directions stemming from the failure (or even a request for intervention) would result in a much smaller council, in both physical size and policy reach, focused on (and only on) core services. Brexit itself should mean that, for example, UK taxpayers’ money goes directly to fund things like Park House rather than from UK taxpayers’ to Brussels and back into Mompoloki’s begging bowl to fund ‘Innovation Centre’ style projects.

    The failings of the existing set-up almost entirely stem from poor selection of the handful of key officers that drive the Council’s agenda; selection by councillors with seriously limited capabilities and experience. Resolve that via intervention and real change is possible. You would of course also need limitations on the powers of elected councillors (a bit like the limits currently imposed on Council Tax increases say) to stop the kind of shambolic cadre we have at the moment taking leadership positions for themselves and breaking the solution (again).

    Hopefully then we could say goodbye to Leijser and his politico-bureaucrat chums; dismantle Mompoloki’s department; make the other cuts that are necessary, manage people like Amanda and Sims via some fairly prescriptive limitations on their authority; and hopefully make local government in the IOS something to be proud of.

    • Peter April 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      … Or, as I keep occasionally saying on this messageboard, and will do so until it happens, as it inevitably will, close the ludicrously incompetent Scilly Council and hand the administration of the islands to Cornwall County Council. That too is no doubt inept, but nowhere near as disastrous as Scilly Council. At least in Cornwall there’s a few hundred thousand inhabitants to choose the councillors from – and thus some prospect of them having the skills and experience to run complex services such as education, water, sewage, highways, environment, tourism etc – unlike the limited pool of talent you will find in a population of two thousand.

    • Adam Morton, St.Martins April 15, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Im very inclined to agree with you . I do however have several concerns in this strategy in that in the interim , those committed to making the islands something to be proud of , don’t have the reserves of those on the gravy train or well enough ensconced to be doing well out of local monopolies and maintaining the status quo! The other aspect is that these appointments were made by people democratically elected by majority . The state we currently find ourselves in can only be symptomatic of the general attitude of “cant be ar**d i’m alright jack”.
      Another issue with Grexit is that although it can be argued that its top heavy & inefficient with bureaucracy, is there anything to say that our homegrown bureaucrats will be any better? Afterall, we have our reps both local & national, if they did their job effectively there wouldn’t be a problem !
      Although we don’t hold them to account locally , I believe it is in the EU constitution to support outlying communities such as in Scotland and many other EU countries . Certainly under a conservative government we could find ourselves suffering the same attitude from London as St.Marys towards the other islands!.
      The fact that we (collectively) elect people who are not committed to equal opportunities is our own faults.
      It is a shame its got to come down to no one having anything before the situation can be resolved but I think you are right. I have argued for years now to pursue a freight subsidy to cut out the basis of our economic disparity but someone with a load of holiday lets doesn’t pay any freight and their customers pay their own – why should they care? The point at which they will care is when there are no shops, pubs cafes, food producers or maintenance people about to provide their customers requirements. A council worker doesn’t have to worry about any of it, wage guaranteed, lovely place to live, the only fly to upset the otherwise idyllic ointment is local media allowing ignored minorities to give them flack.

  2. Harry April 14, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    So, we have a chairwoman who has a foreign, European nationality and a chief exec who is also of foreign, European nationality… and an entire department of the council entirely reliant on never ending EU money being thrown at useless projects… hmm, no surprise that as we get closer to finally being able to leave the EU the Council gets desperate.

  3. Don April 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Any BREXIT wouldn’t be an overnight occurance, it would take years to sort out the divorce papers, such as things like this.

  4. Adam Morton, St.Martins April 14, 2016 at 9:55 am

    The Council is keen to point out that ensuring there is adequate & cost effective transport is outside its “remit” but it seems no obstacle when it comes to something the chief exec wants to do!Personally I find the “economic development team ” a contradiction in terms!
    So far it involves all the poor value associated with public procurement only to be then flogged off to the private sector. Make your minds up!
    So is that right ;no real reduction in funding? This is not what we are led to believe at the public meetings where we are told the council may not even be able to afford to keep the public loo open. I question the need for officers to administer supposedly non existent budgets on soon to be non existent services.

  5. Hugh Towner April 14, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Andy, your opening statement is misleading: The council’s statement is simply that the Brexit vote may delay the council being notified of the decision. There is no implication that the outcome of the referendum could be a determining factor in the decision over whether or not to grant funds.

    • Voxpop April 15, 2016 at 12:05 am

      Great, we get to hold our breath a good bit longer, all thanks to the economically deluded team. Any wonder why talk of Hitachi and the ‘team’ has created so much concern?
      A little over a thousand charge payers could be saddled with paying a bill for years to come because no one has had the sense or the cojones to rein in the officer and her team.

  6. Linguine April 14, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Now, if the Linguist wanted a reason to put her head in her hands that wasn’t just theatrical here it is.
    Irrespective of whether the EU bail us out of this one, overspending on this scale is symptomatic of the way our council is being run. We need to shake off a chairman who is quite evidently overwhelmed by her role and a vice chairman who lacks the common sense and business acumen to hold a management team to account.

    The only reason for repeatedly overspending on the scale that we are witnessing is straightforward unvarnished bad management.
    The only reason it has been permitted to go on so long is weak and ineffective leadership.

    • salt solution April 14, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      There is no such thing as a free lunch, I say ‘Go Dutch’.

    • HIcks, Matt April 15, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      Linguine, why don’t you put your name forward for the chairman of the council role? You obviously think you could do a better job. Or are you one of the many moaners yet refuse to do anything about it? Put you money where your mouth is and stand up and be a man or woman. At least the chairman has the guts to do it. Remember the chairman can only act upon information given by the officers.

      • Linguine April 16, 2016 at 7:57 am

        Oh dear another short memory, that isn’t the way she acts at all. As for the chairmanship I think even you could do a better job.

      • Hicks Butt April 19, 2016 at 9:50 am

        I’m with Matt she is doin a souper job of fixin the councel, a bit more fixin and it wil be dun 4 ha ha

    • Adam Morton, St.Martins April 16, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      I don’t think members have capacity for embarrassment or understanding the concept of good value . That said , I don’t think its right to keep sniping away anonymously so that no one can judge you by your results and not at least put yourself up for election .
      We don’t like the way the Council is run but the majority of the population obviously do or they wouldn’t have elected them . I think the important point to take from this is that a majority of the population can afford to be apathetic to the point that dog fouling & public realm improvements & the like are a priority to them . Forums for the peasants to vent their discontent on , make them uncomfortable in their ivory towers. Both our MP and Council CEO have made their wishes plain in banishing low pay employment . The positive thinking might think this means improving our lot , the realistic understand that it means driving out the low paid and creating a new shiny state of Panem with IP overseeing the death matches of our industries.

      • Mrs. Merton St. Martins April 19, 2016 at 12:22 pm

        Invoking the Game of Thrones, that’s a bit deep Adam. Blaming the majority of the population is also a bit rich, don’t forget most of the present power players were unknown in office before the last election with the exception of M’lord from Tresco who had been a phantom councillor for literally years and only started regularly attending meetings when BIH took his toys away. Now you have one of the least experienced first term councillors as vice chairman. I cannot understand why we didn’t return you for this island.

        • Adam Morton, St.Martins April 20, 2016 at 9:39 am

          There is no Mrs Merton on St.Martins and it wasn’t game of thrones(whatever that is) Both the candidates from this island and all the other off islands are long standing members as well as a majority from St.Marys. Only 5 new faces as I remember (out of 21).That constitutes a majority vote from the majority of the population to keep things as they were.I don’t like it but its democratic, you can’t blame the candidates or the officers they choose. So your point is?
          £30M? Funding poured into St.Marys for innovation centers, roads, seafronts, taxi turning circles airports etc etc – nothing for the off islands!
          My lack of election (whilst a relief to my workload) merely demonstrates a commitment to protecting SSco shares from the slightest risk of ever sorting out any transport subsidy, so that those not granted the right to build a holiday let can have the slightest chance of making a living let alone providing employment or services. Virtually everyone I know in my generation has left the off islands, the last thing our members fought for was free travel for the elderly on the boats. You can’t blame them for that, they are just protecting the interests of their generation as I wanted to do for mine. Unfortunately there isn’t an electorate of under 40s to any extent so i’m stuck with public forums.

          • Mrs. Merton, St.Martins April 21, 2016 at 8:37 am

            Now I understand.

        • Adam Morton, St.Martins April 23, 2016 at 12:12 pm

          Mrs. Merton. You may be interested to know that of the two new Councilors I have been in contact with; one makes “no apology” for putting St.Marys first and the other indicates that because we have nothing on the off islands, we aren’t worth investing in. It seems the next item we will be contributing towards is the Hugh Town sewerage system.
          This won’t change unless people make their councillors accountable and think carefully about who they elect. In reality its far more important than MPs for the national government or EU. Every part of the country has different challenges and our representatives should be feeding into not off the system of national government . How do you think it is that the LEP ends up funding space projects when the cost of transport is going up 10-25% every year at the moment? The bids originate here from our LA! If they don’t have supporting evidence, it gets ignored and we end up with useless ring fenced capital.
          The average plane flight went up by about 12% by my calculation, freight went up 25% inter island boats have just gone up 20%, travel club went up by about 50%. This is averaging 10% a year for the past few, whilst inflation is about 2% . Anyone else spotting a potential problem here?
          Visitors will expect 2% increases so how many years do we have before the remaining 8% renders our industries bankrupt? I know no one gets the transport thing but I can’t see us not entering another phase of bankruptcies & closures such as we witnessed in 2012-13, I really don’t want to see that again but people seem oblivious.