With every day that passes, the degradation of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) assets worsens as this picture yesterday of the “driving range” shows. In 2009/10 the West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) Asset Register showed the BPGC to be worth £1,954,000. In 2015 a senior WLBC officer wrote “The asset value for the Golf Course was reassessed in 2014 and has a valuation of £1,000,000, an updated valuation will be obtained when the 9hole par 3 course is operational”. When or if seems to suit the situation rather well? So it seemed that bungling privatised mismanagement of the “development” of the course had almost halved this publicly owned asset value.
In respect of application number 2011/0787/FUL received on 13 July 2011 and in pursuance of its powers under the above-mentioned Act and Order, West Lancashire Borough Council as Local Planning Authority, having considered your application, hereby grants permission for: Partial remodelling of existing golf course and driving range and creation of new nine hole short course. at: Beacon Park Golf And Country Club, Beacon Lane, Dalton, Wigan. Characteristics of the Development include remodelling of the golf range to provide perimeter mounding and improved targets with 35,000cubic meters of inert soil, later changed without formal planning permission to complete landfill of the entire range area .
In August 2015 an officer precisely stated in writing that “The royalties for the materials being brought to site and currently used to re-profile an area of the golf course for a new 9hole par 3 course are paid to West Lancashire Community Leisure”. A later denial of this statement made me query if the then Officer Code of Conduct been compromised, in which “The aim of the Code is to lay down guidelines for employees that will help establish standards and protect employees from misunderstanding or criticism”? The Council has in place arrangements to govern its activities with the aim of ensuring that it is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner”.
WLBC then told me “My conclusion is that the information provided in August 2015 was not sufficiently precise and that the background information, provided by way of context, did not provide sufficient clarity as to the contractual relationships involved. However, the verbal explanation provided to the AGM, together with the confirmation provided to you in Mr Nelson’s e-mail of the 10th January 2017, did make it clear that the royalties are not part of ‘the Trust’ (WL Community Leisure) accounts [The royalties were claimed by Serco]. I also note Mr Nelson’s apology to you, if that initial response had been unclear. The Borough Council takes its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act very seriously. In addition to meeting the specific requirements arising out of a request i.e. to provide relevant written records where these are held, subject to the exemptions and tests that apply the Council’s approach is to provide additional contextual information, to assist the recipient, where appropriate.
“As regards your question regarding the applicability of the FOI Act 2000 in this case, I believe it will be helpful if I explain the following. First of all, the royalties from the infill of inert waste are part of the contractual agreement between Oakland Golf & Leisure Limited and Serco Leisure Operating Limited. In this instance, Serco are acting as the management agents of/for the contract and the royalties are paid to them. West Lancashire Community Leisure holds the lease for the site and gave permission for the works under a condition that all of the royalties, when received by Serco, were to be spent on improvements to the golf course facilities. It was this overall benefit to the Trust that Mr Nelson was referring to, but without that detailed description of the individual relationships.
“As you are aware, Serco have maintained and continue to maintain that the information regarding royalties and the payments received are of a commercial nature and remain confidential and not available to the wider public. Irrespective of this, you have suggested that the information regarding the royalties should be disclosed by the Council under the FOI Act. However, the Borough Council is not party to the contractual arrangements between Oakland Golf & Leisure Ltd and Serco Leisure Operating Ltd. and we do not hold the information. Clearly, therefore, we cannot provide it and the Act fully recognises that we are not expected to provide information we do not hold.
“Having reviewed all of the information provided to you, (and I hope that the abovementioned clarification has been helpful in this regard), I am satisfied that the Council’s obligations have been met, as per the requirements of the Act”.
That isn’t the end of it. Nor is this .Under Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999 (LGA 1999), the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSCLG) has powers to inspect, inquire and intervene if satisfied that a LA is failing its best value obligation. LGA 1999, s 10 empowers the SSCLG to appoint a person to carry out an inspection of a best value authority’s compliance with the requirements of LGA 1999, Pt 1 in relation to specified functions. If the inspection indicates the LA is failing in any specific areas then LGA 1999, s 15(5) empowers the SSCLG to direct the LA to take any action which they consider necessary or expedient, and LGA 1999, s 15(6) empowers them to direct that: a specified function of the authority shall be exercised by the SSCLG or by a person nominated by them (a commissioner) for a period specified in the direction or for as long as the SSCLG considers appropriate, and the LA shall comply with any instructions of the SSCLG or his commissioner and provide such assistance as they require”. Interesting prospect looming?
Meanwhile a short walk back in time makes us recall that once upon a time it was urgent that Serco took over the proposed WLBC Leisure Contract by an emergency award to them of a contingency sum of up to £610,000, to be approved within the Capital Programme, and that where urgent action is required because of the need for the Council to sign the “Authority to Proceed” without delay, the call-in procedure shall not apply.
Who said “marry in haste and repent at leisure”? It was first expressed in print by William Congreve in his comedy of manners The Old Batchelour, 1693 “Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure”. And so we are! The “royalties” ie landfill load payments are long gone, who knows where other than NOT to council tax payers.