The Chief Executive resigns

You probably know by now that, yesterday, the council announced the resignation of the chief executive.  We’re actually rather saddened by the news.

Of course we’ve been pursuing the saga of the chief executive’s ‘pay rise’ for some nine months.  We’ve taken the view that her – as far as we can tell – public silence about the matter implies that she was ‘guilty beyond all reasonable doubt’.  Whatever the truth, it seemed indisputable that the episode had damaged the credibility of the whole council; the longer it continued the greater that damage would be.  Hence our sadness that the chief executive has left without being shown clearly to be ‘not guilty’.  This would have helped to repair the long-term harm to the council’s reputation.

We ought to recognise the chief executive’s achievements.  But, as far as the town centre and bricks and mortar are concerned, we can’t present a fair picture.  Replacing Arena, revamping the High Street and redeveloping the London Road Block were schemes that were all proposed before she became chief executive.  To what extent she was the driving force that made them happen we do not know.  But we have supported the council’s acquisition of the shopping mall during her ‘reign’ (though we’ve questionned the price).  As far as the purchase of other commercial and residential property is concerned, we weren’t in favour, but the council had few other options for raising essential income.  Perhaps it’s too early – we’ll review the council’s investments in ten years’ time!

There are two obvious questions.  Firstly, will the results of the investigation into the chief executive’s ‘pay rise’ be published now?  We’ve not changed our prediction that they’ll never be published in full.  Perhaps we’ll have to eat our words – we shall see.  Secondly, who will become the new chief executive?  We suspect that there won’t be any immediate recruitment.  The council’s coffers must be taking a severe hammering at the moment; rental income from The Square is almost certain to be less than predicted.  An opportunity to reduce the wage bill would probably be welcome.

(Is this now the time to restructure the council hierarchy? – we vaguely remember the council saying that there would be changes to the management organisation in March…)

SHBC fails to please.  (So does Collectively Camberley)

We’ve just received a criticism of the borough council.  It’ll be clear from what’s written that we can’t check the details ourselves, so if there is another side to the story, do let us know and we’ll publish that too.

We’re sure that the council is under pressure, but it’s disturbing to see that it apparently compares unfavourably with other councils.  Maybe it has different priorities? – council, do let us know.

It’s sad – but not unexpected – to see reference to the festering sore of the chief executive’s ‘pay rise’.  If a Nightingale hospital can be built in nine days, can it REALLY take so many months to do what has to be done?

Anyway, this is what we received:

“My firm are the accountants to a number of businesses with retail premises in Surrey Heath and we have been involved in applying for grants provided by the Government in response to COVID-19, all applications were made on 31 March 2020.

“My firm were involved with grant applications for businesses located throughout England but the applications made to Surrey Heath were among the first ones, however, no business due a grant from Surrey Heath have received any contact or monies so far, despite the majority of other Councils having started paying out.

“Due to this delay I contacted Surrey Heath Council and was told that payments would be made once a week going forward and that there are only 2 members of staff working within the Business Rates department and they have a high workload. I assume that the low staff levels are due to COVID-19 but considering the ongoing issues regarding the Chief Executive’s salary and the Council’s efficiency I thought this was something to also make a note of.”

 Our correspondent added a further comment, this time about Collectively Camberley.  Our earlier caveat and invitation also apply to this – if there’s a different view on ‘the other side of the fence’, PLEASE send it to us and we’ll publish that too.

“I have another business which is a levy payer and so is a part of Collectively Camberley. The construction work on the High Street had had a seriously detrimental effect on business since it started. Throughout this entire period and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic I have not had any contact or assistance in running my business and am extremely disappointed with them. Prior to the pandemic I contacted them in regards to how I could reduce business rates payments due to the construction work but my calls were never returned and since the lockdown and Government announcements on support for businesses I have not had any correspondence from them either. I have always felt that they prefer to look after the bigger businesses in town and are more focused on media opportunities and their own personal wellbeing rather than the small businesses and cannot see any positive that they have added to Camberley town, only negatives.”

Top Secret Council Meeting?

An update on our item earlier today.  We understand that tonight’s council meeting can be watched on Youtube.   Look for ‘SurreyHeath BC‘   But we’ve not found any mention of this by the council itself.  Not on its website, not on Facebook, nor on Twitter.  Maybe we’ve just not looked in the right place.  However, if the council wants to be open (does it?), this is the sort of information that should be impossible to miss.  Why oh why is the council so bad at communicating?

(Apologies to SHBC if we’ve mis-represented the situation.  Just tell us where we’ve failed to look.)

 

Extended powers of the Chief Executive

The borough council tonight will be invited to agree the following changes to procedures.  They are deemed necessary because of the corona virus:

“In the event of a national emergency declared by the Crown or HM Government where it is considered it will be impractical to call meetings for an extended period of time, the Chief Executive will have authority to exercise all the powers, duties and functions exercised by the Council, the Executive or any of the committees, including the authority and power to delegate such powers, duties and functions.

“This authority is time limited to a six-week period, following which any extension must be authorised by the Leader, or in his/her absence, the Deputy Leader.

“Where the Chief Executive is unable to act for the purposes of the above, the  Corporate Management Team, both individually and collectively, is authorised to perform this function.”

No doubt this description of the new powers takes into account the fact that the chief executive is still – as far as we know – on extended leave.

Those interested in planning matters might like to note the following:

“Executive Head of Regulatory be authorised to determine all planning applications which would ordinarily have been determined by the Planning Applications Committee, after consultation with the Chairman of the Planning Applications Committee and ward councillors, until the lifting of restrictions on public gatherings;”

There is probably no alternative to this arrangement.  Presumably there will still be an opportunity for residents to make their views known as at present.  Also, if enough people object, or support, an application, one or more of them must have the opportunity to address the Executive Head of Regulatory as if they were addressing a meeting of the planning committee.

(Tonight’s meeting will also consider an ‘HR matter’.  More than that we are not told.)

We agree with the council planners

Our two photos show the new block of flats being built on the site of the old Working Men’s Club.  As you can see, the upper floors are ‘stepped back’ from Obelisk Way.  This makes them much less overbearing than if the frontage were flat.  You can get a feel for the difference by looking at our second picture, showing the building from the back.

The Square – stopped, not finished?

Two years ago the council wrote: “The first phase of The Square Shopping Centre refurbishment has been completed and the final phase of the spectacular refurbishment will be completed later this year.”  But, to our knowledge, the council has NEVER said what the full refurbishment would involve.  Clearly, Cambridge Square and Princess Way haven’t taken part in it.  We’re showing just two photos;  the damaged flooring, and a decorative panel, which seems to be a left-over from when the motif was being considered for much wider use in the shopping mall.

What IS the council planning to do with the old and tired part of the building? – anything?

Why the hurry?

As we walked up Crawley Hill yesterday as part of our ‘one-a-day’ exercise, this speed monitor was constantly flashing as vehicles drove by.

Now, the Eye has been known to go ‘a little too fast’.  So we’re not claiming that we’re holier than thou.  But if the councils (borough and county) are serious about encouraging people to cycle rather than drive, they HAVE to do something more to restrict speeding the whole way from Crawley Hill to the Frimley Road.  Talk is cheap and easy, but it’s actions that matter.

The Local Plan – too late, far too late?

The latest Heathscene has a short item about the Local Plan.  The Plan is a key document that will guide the development of the borough for years to come.

Now, there’s nothing to argue about that. Except… if you look at the council’s website you’ll be able to read that “The Council is currently preparing a new Local Plan for the Borough that will cover the period 2014 – 2032…. A consultation on the draft plan will take place in Spring 2018”

Of course, currently planning for 2014 is a rather odd idea.  And things didn’t work out like that.  Not least, the goalposts shifted and the document became the ‘Draft Local Plan 2016-2032’.

The timetable for the shifted-goalposts document is (was?) that there would be a pre-submission consultation in June 2019, followed by what is called an Examination in Public in December 2019, with the final document being adopted in March 2020.

Er, yes.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps not.  The June 2019 pre-submission consultation hasn’t  happened yet.  Instead, “The next consultation on the emerging Local Plan will take place later in 2020.”

How late is ‘later’?  Well, the council’s mid year review up to September 2019 – a document passed by the council’s Executive, discusses the following target: “Develop a new Local Plan to guide development in the Borough…. Consult with the public, businesses and partners on the draft local plan in January and February 2020.” The review states that progress is “On Track”.  But it’s now April, and we’ve not seen any such consultation.  Was the Executive simply suckered?

There’s a serious danger that council ‘plans’ will react to circumstances, rather than shape them.  The plans then – of course – become totally pointless.  Perhaps that stage has been reached already?

The council’s last year’s accounts survived audit

Quietly, the council posted its much-delayed audited 2018-2019 accounts on its website early last month.  As yet, we’ve not seen much in the auditor’s comments to remark upon.  That is, other than the comment “2 breaches of the Member [‘Member’ = ‘Councillor’] Code of Conduct have occurred and have are [sic] being formally investigated.”  From the wording ‘have are’, it seems that the investigation(s) may be still on-going.

As the councillors are our elected representatives, we really need to know the facts.  We don’t want to run the risk of re-electing someone who has been investigated, and who has been found, for example, to have had their fingers in the till (or whatever the misdemeanor might be).  Clearly, the situation calls for a Freedom of Information Enquiry….

Chief executive’s ‘pay rise’ – ‘no comment’ from the council

You may remember that, when the borough council declined to provide us with its written procedures for making financial awards to the chief executive, we eventually referred our request to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The ICO has now decided that it IS in order for the council to neither confirm nor deny that such procedures exist.  (Click HERE if you want more detailed information).  If the council confirmed or denied their existence, apparently it might prejudice the not-yet-completed investigation into the ‘additional duties allowance’ given to the chief executive.

It is now seven months since this investigation was started.  It seems clear to us that it does not take seven months to find out the facts of what happened.  If there was some definite ‘undesirable’ action, it should not take seven months to initiate corrective action.  So, in view of what amounts to an endorsed ‘no comment’ by the council, we conclude that there is an on-going dispute between the council and those involved.

What irks us is that, during most of those seven months, the chief executive seems to have been on extended leave while, presumably, receiving full pay.  Yet we now have a situation when many residents in the borough have lost their jobs and are desperate for support.  Those who are wasting the council’s much-needed money at such a time should hang their heads in shame.