The silence of the local government bureaucracy in West Lancashire has caused suspicions of mal-administration while leisure outsourcing, particularly golf services, has failed the community.
A long time ago, in July 2000, WLBC outsourced the management of golfing services at Beacon Park Golf Course to DCT Leisure Limited and its owner Mark Prosser, who traded it on a £1annual lease as Beacon Park Golf & Country Club. In exchange for fixed terms of five years, renewable on review, WLBC received fees of £25,000 per annum.
The 2005 review was reported to the WLBC Cabinet, March 2005, by portfolio holder Cllr D Westley, whose report contained gushing phrases such as “Members may wish to acknowledge the success to date of the ground breaking partnership with DCT Leisure in managing the Beacon Park Golf Course over the past five years” and ”DCT Leisure Limited has benefitted both Council and local community, justifying the initial decision to engage them”. The outcome was “It is proposed therefore that the Council recognises this by agreeing to a further two 5 year options to be added to the operating agreement”. “It would appear to be appropriate to continue the partnership arrangement”. Nothing wrong then? [Beacon Park Golf Course score card 2004 above and below]
This “partnership” of “benefits” was so one-sided in terms of WLBC ignoring its obligations of due diligence of publicly owned property that it was oblivious to DCT Leisure Ltd fiddling, or ignoring, its VAT payments to HMRC. It went into insolvency in 2012, not having paid its £60,000 VAT liability.
WLBC had outsourced the remainder of its other leisure facilities to Serco Leisure Operating Ltd in 2005. This event included an upfront payment to Serco to guarantee essential works, consisting of a contingency sum of up to £610,000, a Westley/John Nelson urgent decision to Council 20 October 2004.
A WLBC website check of Overview and Scrutiny Documents listed indicates the Beacon Park Golf Course has never been included in its programme. Yet planning application 2016/0040/FUL was agreed for Applicant Oakland Golf And Leisure Ltd at 20 Rockery Road Leeds LS18 5AS, the address of its Director Jonathon Snellgrove, convicted of Knowsley planning fraud, and of avoidance of VAT payments circa £100,000 to HMRC for which his then company was dissolved and the VAT never recovered.
Finally, in this record of outsourcing Beacon Park Golf Course, the landfill was received into site compounds including ticket office and wheel wash, then distributed for “remodelling”, by Neil Langton Plant Hire/Operator, whose charges would have been substantial but not, so far as we can assume, commercial in confidence.
So there they are, the outsourcing quintet, WLBC, DCT Leisure Ltd, Serco Leisure Services Operating Ltd, Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd, and Neil Langton Plant Hire. Between them they caused members of the Beacon Park Golf Club, formed in 1982, to write
Simply Dying Since Serco Took Over
1. No golf shop. 2 No golf pro. 3 No driving range. 4 No water for greens. 5 No sand for bunkers. 6 No gaitor repaired (two months). 7 No fuel for machines. 8 No greens meetings. 9 No room for Club boards and trophies. 10 No parking places for Club Captain & Committee. 11 No bowser seen on greens while awaiting sprinkler system repair. 12 No environment checking loads (landfill) coming in. What’s in them and how many? 13 No monies from tipping, nobody can say where monies are or how much. 14 How much more tipping, it was to finish last year, another 18 months, still going on. 15. People are beginning to think it’s a landfill site! [Driving range bays destroyed, below]
To which Serco (West Lancashire Community Leisure, WLCL) responded that “It was with some disbelief that we received the attached list of complaints from yourselves regarding Beacon Park Golf Course. WLCL took over the course…had it not done so it was almost certain the course would have closed...the driving range useage is minimal and as part of the overall development we took the decision that the range will close...without the WLCL financial support the course would not be able to operate…the Trust invested £200,000 to support the operation…we gave the club back its independence…we reduced membership fees”. [Driving range bays destroyed, below]
Other issues were minimised, with the ultimate final sentence that “The financial side is commercially confidential and I will not disclose it, it is not a matter of being secretive but one of simple business”, which was treated with derision by club members who wanted to know how and why their publicly owned golf course was a landfill site, its facilities reduced or removed, while producing vast sums of landfill royalties for commercial businesses rather than for municipal golf benefit.
To find what, if any, public scrutiny has occurred I asked WLBC “I can’t find any Leisure Partnership Cabinet Working Group references, recommendations, or minutes. Could I now ask for any information whatsoever about the work done, if any, by the Leisure Partnership Cabinet Working Group for the past three years? I’m tempted to consider the LPCWG is a secret society and its work, if it does any, not intended for public scrutiny”.
The response “Recent reports from the Leisure Cabinet Working Group went to Cabinet on the 11 June 2019 and Council on the 17 July 2019 which provided an update on progress. Due to the nature of the reports these were Part 2 Reports which means that they are not in the public domain due to financial and business affairs contained within the report”.
So it IS a “secret society” then? They have much to keep secret as the latest pictures of the golf course shambles show?
But the most recent kick in the teeth came when the WLBC external auditors refused to include the Beacon Park Golf Course outsourcing revelations in its report. They wrote “Unfortunately it is beyond my remit as statutory auditor to the Authority to investigate the activities of third party companies such as DTC Leisure Ltd and Serco Leisure Operating Ltd. Therefore, I am not able to comment further on those allegations relating to third parties.
“In response to your query on my proposed conclusion on the Council’s VFM arrangements, the scope of our VFM work considers the overall arrangements in place at the Authority. The Audit Code does not necessarily require me to for example consider the adequacy of the Authority’s actions in response to an individual planning enforcement issue unless I deem it to be so significant to my conclusion on those overall arrangements. Having discussed the matter with the Authority, I do not have sufficient grounds to take the view that the issues raised relating to Beacon Park Golf Course in isolation are indicative of inadequate arrangements within the Authority”.
Well, it’s only a golf course once used by many elderly West Lancashire competition winning council tax and golf membership payers, now dwindling because of the state of it. So that’s alright then!