A project manager is being sought to oversee the relocation of county council headquarters – three months before such a move is even debated.
Councillors have been assured that no decision has been made over the future of County Hall in Loansdean, and a full debate of plans for a move to Ashington is scheduled for July.
But already Northumberland County Council is advertising the post of project manager for ‘an exciting change project which will see the council move to a new civic centre’.
The post, with an annual salary of up to £47,482, would be fixed term until May 31, 2018.
The closing date for applications is Tuesday.
Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson, who has previously slammed the relocation plan as a white elephant, said: “The leader of the council said just the other day in a very public way that the council would have the opportunity to decide this issue on July 1.
I would be very interested to hear from the council leader how he thinks he can make this appointment ahead of a promised debate on the County Hall decision on July 1, which is about three months away.Peter Jackson, Northumberland Conservative Group Leader
“This just confirms to me as an Opposition councillor that the decision has already been made.
“To do this ahead of any county council decision on July 1 goes against all democratic common sense.”
The council says it is prudent to begin recruitment of a project manager as members have already agreed there will be relocation to Ashington, a new headquarters on the existing site or a re-design of the current building.
The post-holder would be expected to deliver the project within a capital budget of around £20million, with the new facility ready to open in 2018.
The job purpose is stated: “To lead the delivery of the council’s County Hall relocation project, which is primarily focused on the delivery of the new headquarters facility.”
It adds: “They will ultimately be responsible for delivering against the business case to enable the organisation to move to new facilities and adopt smarter ways of working through project management of the construction programme and leading change with staff, members and the public as needed.”
The key responsibility is to: “Build effective and constructive relationships with key stakeholders (including senior officers) and partners with regard to establishing alternative accommodation to the council’s current HQ at County Hall and the council’s chosen partner (ARCH) for the delivery of the new HQ.”
Coun Jackson said he was disappointed, but not surprised by the development.
“It was quite clear from the flavour of the consultants’ reports that the decision had been made months ago and that the Labour Administration was hell-bent on moving County Hall to Ashington in a completely unjustified manner,” he said.
“It has the potential to cost taxpayers million of pounds.
“I didn’t know about this job, but I’m getting used to the way that the council is being run. It is as though it can have the power to do everything behind closed doors without justifying its actions to the public and the taxpayers. Once again it has been found out.
“I would be very interested to hear from the council leader how he thinks he can make this appointment ahead of a promised debate on the County Hall decision on July 1, which is about three months away.”
Morpeth Liberal Democrat member Andrew Tebbutt added: “I’m a little bit surprised that the council has done this before the final decision has been made, but I do understand the need for someone to specialise in the work.”
A council spokesman said: “Last October the council’s Policy Board considered three options around the future of the council’s headquarters — relocation to Ashington, a new corporate headquarters on the existing site and a substantial re-design of the existing building.
“All three options represent a significant project involving substantial relocation and building works, from initial preparation through to implementation, and require experienced and skilled project management.
“While a final report will be presented to full council on July 1, the need for preparatory work and consistency into the implementation phase means we have taken the prudent decision to begin recruiting for a permanent Project Manager.”