Last month, the decision to spend £2.7 million on refitting the ground floor of the Council House prompted a negative reaction from the local press and on social media. I’d like to address a few misconceptions that exist about this ambitious project and provide more information on how our plans to share the space with Job Centre Plus will save local taxpayers money.
Many residents have questioned why the Council would choose to spend more money on its flagship building, when it was extensively refurbished between 2010 and 2012. But the reality is that over the course of a 15 year lease, these plans will generate over £7 million of income for the authority.
If our public services are to be financially sustainable in the years ahead, the Council needs to think more commercially. That means taking advantage of opportunities when they arise and occasionally investing resources now to save money in the future.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contacted Derby City Council last year about moving their two existing Job Centre Plus offices in the city into the Council House. Since then, officers have been working hard to get the best possible deal for the authority.
Negotiations have now concluded and following approval by Ministers and the decision taken at Council Cabinet in June, Job Centre Plus will move into the Council House in early 2018. I firmly believe this offers a range of benefits to the Council as well as local taxpayers.
Of the proposed £2.7 million of capital spending, the DWP will contribute £1.2 million towards the reconfiguration of the ground floor in order to accommodate their staff, as well as paying initial annual rental and service charges totalling £491,000.
The Council will spend the remaining £1.5 million on the creation of the new Riverside Library; more accessible meeting rooms for the public and improved security for our own employees, resulting in a £5.9 million return on our investment over the course of the lease with the DWP.
Derby City Council is not alone in experiencing the effects of austerity. Public services are under pressure across the board and co-locating offers valuable savings by cutting down on overheads and offering a more comprehensive range of services to residents under one roof.
The Council is a very different organisation to the one it was at the start of the decade, with over 1000 fewer staff and customers preferring to access many of our services online. Like any large business, we need to adapt if we are to continue to meet the needs of residents in future.
We are often required to make difficult decisions about how we allocate our scarce resources. I’d encourage anyone who continues to have doubts about this project to look at the proposals for themselves, rather than be led by those who would seek to misrepresent the facts for political gain. In my view, the numbers speak for themselves.
Every penny saved from this project will help protect valuable frontline services. That is what residents would expect from their Council and is the primary motive behind our decision to reconfigure the ground floor of the Council House. As we seek to take advantage of more commercial opportunities in future, that will remain our priority.
Councillor Baggy Shanker
Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance