Leading Labour Councillors knew 12 months ago that project was “unaffordable”
Minutes of the Council EPH project board meetings are beginning to emerge into the public light. They reveal that the Councils requirements for the Lowfields care village and a similar facility at Burnholme School were described by Council officials as “gold plated”.
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A review meeting of the decision is set to start at 5:00pm today in the Councils West Offices.
As long ago as April 2014 negotiations with the only two remaining bidders for the project had revealed a £17 million gap in funding.
6 weeks later one of the bidders had dropped out, apparently leaving the board with no option but to abandon the project and find another way of dealing with the demand for care places.
At that time, closing all the Councils care homes and buying in all provision from the private sector was the tabled alternative.
The minutes reveal that both Leader James Alexander and Cllr Cunningham (Cross) were briefed that the project was failing. Despite this Cllr Cunningham maintained, in response to Council questions, that negotiations were still ongoing and claimed that procurement rules prevent other Councillors being updated.
In April 2014 the Council were still describing the two site project in glowing terms,
“It will deliver facilities that are light years ahead of our current care homes and ‘raise the bar’ of care provision in the city. The provider should have no difficulty in attracting self-funders into such facilities”.
“The project’s engagement of residents, relatives, staff, older people, voluntary sector partners, and other key stakeholders, in the vision and design of the care home modernisation programme was hailed at the time, and is a blueprint for our current re-wiring approach”.
“The timing of this decision is crucial too coming, as it does, at a point when we are about to publically launch a ‘re-wiring public services programme’ founded on transforming services and doing things differently, based on co-production with our staff, Trade Unions, York’s residents and other key stakeholders. Given the significant public consultation and co-production involved in getting the EPH project this far, if we were to back-track now our credibility would be questioned”
By February of 2015, the Council was describing the project as outdated with more modest localised facilities said to be an “exciting opportunity“.
The April meeting concluded with the warning “there is still a considerable risk of the procurement falling over (because of affordability issues, the Burnholme site issues, etc.”
A developing sense of crisis is evident in the June 2014 board minutes with a July meeting arranged to formally wrap up the care village option. It would be over 6 months before theist decision was made public.
Opposition Councillors are calling for the minutes of all the project board meetings to be made public.
It still likely that the project floundered as a result of the Burnholme school requirement being added to an already expensive project. In 2012 the Lowfields scheme had been declared financially viable following a “soft marketing” exercise.
It emerged that in 2013 officials had talked of fudging the financial aspects of the project
There is a lot more to come out about this scandal which has already cost taxpayers around £500,000 in abortive costs with promised annual savings of £500,000 a year also jeopardised.