Eastleigh Council have been accused of ‘steamrollering through’ their decision to purchase the Rose Bowl cricket stadium for £6.5 million.
John Martin, a West End resident and Ukip activist challenged a poorly attended meeting of the performance and policy panel last Wednesday over the haste the council had shown in pursuing the proposed deal.
Mr Martin was particularly concerned that the cabinet that convened on December 15 ignored a recommendation from the Resources Scrutiny Panel that had met only two days earlier (December 13) to fully consider a list of 14 outstanding issues including assurances from the directors and auditors of the rose bowl regarding the stadium’s financial position prior to any decision being made.
However Instead of doing so the cabinet – in a meeting which lasted one minute – decide to pass the matter on to Full Council which was scheduled to meet half an hour later.
The proposed Stadium purchase had been bundled together with an update on the council’s plan to borrow £30 million to fund the construction of a four star hotel at the venue and had been submitted as a late paper.
A member of the Public who had indicated he wanted to speak at the Cabinet meeting (none other than Mr Martin) was therefore not called by the Chair, Cllr Keith House.
Prior to the Cabinet meeting Mr Martin had been informed by the council that the matter would be subject to further scrutiny by the joint scrutiny panel, however during the Full Council meeting councillors agreed to delegate the decision making process to the Leader of the Council Cllr Keith House along with Chair of Resources Scrutiny Cllr Steve Holes, and the council’s top three executive officers.
The final decision therefore to commit the Borough to a £36 million debt will now rest with just five people only two of whom have been elected .
This is the background to Mr Martin’s complaint – it should have been a straightforward task to run through the sequence of events, described above, which led the Council to agree that the final decision should be made without recourse to the joint scrutiny committee but it actually took 40 minutes to establish this.
The fact that there were only four out of an expected 12 councillors present – two of whom were not present at the December 15 meeting – probably wasn’t helpful and perhaps Mr Martin, unaccustomed to public speaking, was a little long winded in stating his case but Corporate Director Alex Parmley appeared to have difficulty in understanding Mr Martin and much time was taken with trying to establish what it was Mr Martin had understood would happen,what should have happened and what actually did happen over the course of the three meetings held on December 13 -15.
The Corporate Director repeatedly asked for ‘clarification’ and suggested that Mr Martin was confusing the Stadium with plans for the Rose Bowl Hotel while flatly stating:
‘There was no agreement to not subject the matter to scrutiny’
but finally, after considerable discussion he conceded:
“There was a change as a result of motions moved on the night (December 15). The original proposal was that the decision would come back to council and It would go to scrutiny beforehand but there was a motion made on the night which has a material effect on that so it would not go back to council.”
Responding Mr Martin concluded:
“The scrutiny panel went to a lot of trouble to ask questions and come up with this recommendation but it was ignored by cabinet. There were a lot of issues to be considered, it went to cabinet and the cabinet did not consider them.
What is the point in having a scrutiny panel? We may as well not have one.
Motions were then amended and changed on the night (December 15)
How can that be a proper process? Surely that needs to be challenged?”
This went unanswered. In fact there was an 11 second silence before anyone else spoke.
Conservative opposition councillor Cllr Grajewski – added her support to Mr Martin’s point regarding the haste with which the business had been conducted.
“It was all rushed through very quickly. People, councillors and members of the public should have had more time – a greater opportunity to look at the minutes of the Resources Scrutiny.”
Cllr Grajewski had also said earlier that she believed it was not possible to achieve proper scrutiny when a committee is dominated by members from a single party.
After the meeting Mr Martin said he was grateful to have had the time to fully explain his concerns and hoped that the Chair, Cllr Holden-Brown would be able to discuss them with the Chair of the Resources Panel, Cllr Holes.
Mr Martin hoped this would lead to any decision on the Stadium purchase being subject to consideration by the Joint Scrutiny Panel.
Photo: Andy Dingley
see also: When 12 become 4