26 Aug 2011

Back-of-Envelope Civic Centre Finances Revealed

On 14 July 2001, I advertised that I had requested from Brent Council financial data for the civic centre project, under Freedom of Information law. Unfortunately, I find their response dated 9 August 2011 wholly inadequate. Here it is.
2011-08-10MrAliFOIInformationsupplied[1] To make matters worse, the covering letter to the response stated:

Brent Council: "Following careful consideration, [Brent Council] can inform you that we have decided not to disclose some of this information. [We] attach a copy of the information which can be disclosed in the form of a pdf file. The remainder of the information you requested is being withheld.

The exemption applied is Commercial Interests (public interest test) section 43. This exemption applies because it applies to trade secrets and to information which if disclosed would, or would likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person, including the authority holding it." (10 Aug 2011)

I have since written to the local papers, and replied to the Council themselves. Here is the gist of my follow-up to the Council:

SA: "Thank you for your FOI response. Unfortunately, I do have a number of follow-up questions, which I feel should have been covered in your original reply but have not been. Allow me to put them here:

- What is the cost of the Civic Centre? Remarkably this is not in there.
- What is the cost of financing the debt?
- What is "the most recent financial assessment of the project benefits"?
- How is the £89m figure quoted made up in terms of "reduction of operating costs" and "other efficiency savings"?
- On what basis has the "risk adjusted" figure of £2.85m per year over 25 years been arrived at?

I was looking for a response more akin to a balance sheet, showing income and expenditure over the lifetime of the project. Moreover, any reference to other documents should surely be referenced - and means of access to further data given, or hyperlinked where appropriate - and it not be assumed that the enquirer knows what is being referred to. Certainly, no prior knowledge should be assumed and the response should be self-contained and inclusive."

The good people of Brent await a High court ruling to have the Council's reckless decision to axe half the borough's libraries overturned. By such means the Council sought to save £1m. Since, on their own inadequate terms, Brent seeks to make savings of £2.85m per year over the next 25 years, to make the Civic Centre work, are we not entitled to know what further "efficiency savings" lie in store for us?

For an informative overview of the most recent Council budget, with reference to the Civic Centre, read my colleague Martin Francis. The full budget documents are still available as appendicies here. In particular, note that on page 3 of Appdx. B, the income line (red parentheses) is without evidential basis.

Previous Soapbox slot on why the Civic Centre is such a bad idea. Recent press letter, Harrow Times: How will this be paid for?.

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