Councillor Grant Davey claims that the Ernst and Young review of the relocation of County Hall vindicates the administration’s position. I have read the report and have come to a different conclusion.
In EY’s scope of work it set out that it intended to review the financial models prepared by management, but noted that it would not audit the integrity of the model. As EY progressed in the work, it found out that, in fact, there was no formal detailed financial model — so it would have been hard pressed to audit the integrity, even if it had wanted to.
Nor could EY find a separate business case to review, and had to piece together disparate reports and working papers in order to perform the review.
EY states: “In our experience, it would be usual to have a formal comprehensive business case for such a large capital project, pulling together all of the detailed financial projections and other relevant information in one place.”
This lack of a comprehensive business case makes it much more difficult for opponents to get to grips with the facts, but has enabled this project to sail though all procedures, including the scrutiny committee, which decided to vote for approval of the project rather than examine if the business case and evidence was sufficiently robust to go forward for decision-making, which is the only purpose of that committee.
EY could not get the council’s staff numbers to add up. It was not able to reconcile the staff numbers for County Hall and Ashington contained in the reports to the supporting documents. The number of staff to be accommodated is a key driver in the cost of the building, so uncertainty here means uncertainty on the total cost, currently reported as £34.3million construction, plus £5.03million interest.
As to the merits of alternative locations, EY helpfully points out that the decision to relocate to Ashington had already been made in April 2014 so the council officers and consultants did not examine alternative locations.
All this may satisfy EY, but it will not satisfy many residents of Northumberland who will be footing the bill for this folly for many years to come.