The open and transparent scrutiny of Cornwall's stadium project
Strange then that the stadium now doesn't appear on the agenda for the Cabinet meeting. The council's calendar of meetings says the next meeting of the the relevant scrutiny committee won't be until 4th April. Let's just call it "slippage."
Interesting, though, that this motion has been tabled by a group of Conservative councillors for the full council meeting on 27th March:
"This Council supports the development of a Stadium for Cornwall as a private sector led project and recommends to Cabinet that if the Council receives a request for financial support, whether direct or indirect, including by way of guarantees or provision of infrastructure, that the principle of providing such support be debated by Full Council before any decision be made by Cabinet."
It's hard to escape the feeling that three distinct camps have emerged in this saga. First, there are those senior council officials whose energetic enthusiasm for making the stadium happen seems to frighten those gentle souls more used to the long-winded democracy once traditional in local government. Second, there are the elected members of the council (including some cabinet members) who haven't the faintest idea what is going on and are very angry about it. And third, there are the "private sector partners" - particularly Inox - who are supposed to be leading the project but who are curiously reluctant to invest £15.2million in a company which doesn't have a profitable business plan.
In support of my first point I would quote the suggestion first reported in the West Briton that taxpayers would fund £8m worth of infrastructure to help that project which Inox is really interested in, namely the 1,500-home housing estate. In return, Inox was expected to stump up £7m towards the stadium. A cunning plan to get round the Section 106 rules? Would such a deal be legal? It doesn't feature in the recommendation which was due to have been discussed next week, so I guess it's been quietly dropped.
This would explain why Inox is so adamant that it is not putting any of its own money into the stadium - which as councillor Bob Egerton discovered, is perhaps just as well.
Perhaps the real mystery is that given the claimed economic and social benefits of a stadium, the council insisted right from the very start that only the private sector could deliver it. If this was the case, then why have we had a year of secret council meetings where the only topic of conversation has been how to finesse taxpayers' money into the project? Why not just consider the planning issues and leave the high finance to the market?
Maybe officials feared that if they pushed openly for a council-built stadium they would never win the political argument. Instead we have had policy made behind closed doors, with the current recommendation that £15.2m public money be used for a "guarantee," as if councillors are too dim to join the dots. For a council which cannot even keep its public toilets open, on the grounds that it has no statutory obligation to do so, this is the sort of priority which some councillors feel they ought to at least debate.