Thursday, September 28, 2006

Full Council

Dashed back from Manchester this afternoon to get to Cabinet and then Council.

The session was dominated by the debate on the extra costs associated with the Pedestrian Heart scheme. The officer report can be accessed at http://www.darlington.gov.uk/PublicMinutes/Council/September%2028%202006/Item%208.pdf

In my speech, I said I was as angry and frustrated as everyone else with both the time delays and cost overruns assocaited with the scheme. There have been a series of failings, as you will see from the report, principally the nature of the main contract (which has left the Council carrying almost the whole burden of risk). The contractor Birse who are delivering the scheme have also found the task far more compex than they imagined when they tendered, particularly the problems with the different levels in the town centre.

The Conservatives have been calling for the resignation of the Cabinet over the problems. Usually, resignations calls are brushed aside in politics, but I thought the issue required proper consideration of their demand. In fact as problems have come to light, they have been dealt through a series of decisive responses. The firm previously overseeing the work on a day-to-day basis has been replaced to get a grip on costs, and the area of the Council responsible for managing contracts has been beefed up.

Cabinet members have shown leadership in addressing these problems, and doing everything possible to get the work finished on time. The resignation call was misplaced.

One interesting point which came out during the debate was the fact that three councillors sat on the committee which approved the controversial contract which is at the root of the problems- two Labour Cabinet members and the Leader of the Conservative Opposition Cllr. Tony Richmond. I'm not for a moment suggesting that the three councillors are culpuble - they acted on officer advice after all. It is the case, however, that it is very easy to be wise after the event. I hope that in the Scrutiny Committee Inquiry to come of the Pedestrian Heart scheme, that will be acknowledged.

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