Lee Colyer, the Director of Finance, Policy and Development, advised that the Council had decided to seek two independent studies into the authority’s approach, to date, on the proposed civic development. He said that the independent assurance work would be carried out as follows: (i) a review of the approach to project management of the proposed development, to be carried out by Mid Kent Audit; and (ii) an independent assessment of the civic development business case, to be undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).
Mr Colyer added that the outcome from these two reviews would form part of the Stage 3 decision-making report which would be taken through the Council’s governance process, leading to a final decision at the Full Council on 6 December.
Mr Colyer invited the Committee to comment on the approach being followed, within its terms of reference, i.e. the monitoring of corporate governance and risk management, rather than the policy or decision-making of the Council.
Mr Quigley welcomed the initiative. However, he felt that, based upon his professional experience, there were other elements of the Council’s approach to the project which he would expect to see, such as: (i) a process for managing risks and issues; (ii) the need for the business case to set out the options considered, along with an analysis of ‘value for money’; and (iii) a cost/benefit analysis to show that the preferred option provides the best value for money. Mr Colyer thanked Mr Quigley for these observations, adding that these would be taken into account within the briefs provided for both Mid Kent Audit and CIPFA.
Mr Candlin, the Head of Economic Development and Property, advised that the project risk register formed part of the documentation in the Members’ Room and would also be included in the end-of-Stage 3 report to the Full Council in December.
Councillor Chapelard had registered to speak on this item. He said that his principal concern had always been over the choice of the site for the proposals, adding that he very much hoped that the independent review would incorporate this element of the decision-making to date. Councillor Chapelard recalled that a critical aspect of the choice of site had been the seven guiding principles which had been set out, including, for instance, the need to keep the existing theatre open until its replacement was ready for occupation. He added that, unless the proposed project review was sufficiently detailed and covered such past decisions, it might be criticised.
Mr Colyer, in response, said that the site choice had been taken by the Full Council, in December 2015, based on a detailed options analysis report. He added that it was not intended therefore that the independent review would include an examination of that particular decision but would focus more on: (i) the authority’s approach to project management process and (ii) the robustness of the business case.
Councillor Neve asked what the cost was of the proposed independent reviews. Mr Colyer confirmed that the cost of the CIPFA review would be £12,000, which would be met from the development programme budget.
Councillor Neve next asked for clarification regarding the statement in the report that ‘the independent review briefs would be shared with the Committee’. He said that he could find no reference to this in the minutes of the last meeting, reference to which had been set out in the report.
Councillor Neve also asked whether the views of Design South East (DSE) had been sought as part of the progression of this scheme. Mr Candlin responded by confirming that DSE had been consulted with, adding that their response was currently being examined and taken into consideration.
Councillor Neve remained sceptical, adding that there was a suggestion of the authority being too secretive in how it was only now publicising its proposals for an independent review of the project.
Mr Colyer responded. He said that the proposal for the independent reviews had been published with the agenda for this meeting the previous week, in full compliance with access to information requirements. He added that the Council had consistently been open and transparent about the costs of the civic development and that only where there were issues of commercial sensitivity had any detail had to be considered in exempt session at meetings of the Cabinet or Full Council.
Mr Colyer also stressed that the authority had set up a dedicated website on the civic development, which provided comprehensive detail about all aspects of the proposed scheme. (This can be found at: www.twciviccentre.co.uk)
Mr Quigley acknowledged that one of the key aspects of the reviews would be on the Council’s business case for the proposals. He felt that the agenda report should make it clear as to what happens next, in other words that the independent reviews would form a part of the suite of documents which together would be considered by the Full Council in December.
Councillor Barrington-King said that it was clear from comments made on social media that there was a good level of awareness of the proposals for independent reviews of the civic development. He drew attention to paragraph 4.1 of the report, where it said that its purpose was to inform the Committee of the approach being taken towards the independent reviews; he added that he considered the report had been very successful in achieving exactly that.
In summing up, the Chairman said that he very much welcomed the initiative being taken and he looked forward to the resulting reports coming before the Committee at its November meeting.
RESOLVED – That the approach being taken in obtaining an independent assessment of the civic development project be noted.