Peterborough City Council and Geoffrey Osborne Limited

07:20 Friday 8th July 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: A Peterborough City councillor is querying why the Council has paid over £1 million to one company in just a month. Construction company Geoffrey Osborne Limited worked on the Cathedral and St Johns development, as well as doing work on the parkways and Northey Gravel Bridge. Liberal Democrat councillor Darren Fower wants to know exactly what work the company Geoffrey Osborne Limited did for the Council in January, and what the payments are for. Darren’s with us now. Morning Darren.
DARREN FOWER: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: How did you come across this information?
DARREN FOWER: It was while I was doing a little bit of reading up on how the City Council decided to ahnd the work for introducing solar panels on to the Town Hall building to a Leicestershire company. I happened to come across this openly local website, which does quite a good job at being open about the financial figures.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So you’ve spoken to the Council, and asked them why they paid this company a million pounds in January. What’s been their response?
DARREN FOWER: Well so far we’ve got no information on that. So that is definitely one of the points we’re trying to make here, where a separate website has the capability of providing such information, but if you try to get a similar level of detail on the Council website it would be a minor miracle.
PAUL STAINTON: But you’re a councillor. Surely you ..
DARREN FOWER: (LAUGHS) The theory is, yes, we should be able to have access to the information quite easily, and be able to answer such simple questions. You mentioned the fact that these guys had done some work on Cathedral Square. Well I personally am not the biggest fan of Cathedral Square, but I did ask some of the people on Facebook last night, and to be honest about 90% were not in favour of Cathedral Square, and were not happy with the work that’s been done. And if we’ve given such a large amount of money to a company, I think people do need to be asking questions.
PAUL STAINTON: I think the problem is, isn’t it, that the contract with the builders wasn’t perhaps good enough, or air-tight enough.
DARREN FOWER: Well again yes, this is good, because obviously you yourself in your show have done some really good work in regards to making people aware of some of the problems and mistakes that have happened. I can remember, I think it was maybe a year ago, when they talked about the problem with rain, and how they hadn’t really allowed for that.
PAUL STAINTON: Well penalty clauses might have been a good thing as well, eh?
DARREN FOWER: Absolutely. The bottom line is that the money that the City Council spends, wherever they get it from, it’s always from the general public, through taxation. And so when mistakes are happening, it’s very decent and fair if they at least come on and give some explanation. But I think with Cathedral Square it really has been something of a white elephant.
PAUL STAINTON: Well the thing is though a lot of that money was from Government grants, wasn’t it, for Cathedral Square. So what’s the issue if that’s where the money is coming from?
DARREN FOWER: Absolutely. But like I say, whether it’s Government grants, whether it’s regional something or other, the bottom line is all this money, it doesn’t come from a magic pot, it comes from the pockets of the people. They sometimes tell you it’s not through council tax, but it’s through taxation. And the taxation comes from the people, so quite simply, the people are paying for these things, these works, these projects, and then horrendous mistakes are being made. The City Council should do the decent thing and give a reason.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we asked them to come on this morning.
DARREN FOWER: What did they say?
PAUL STAINTON: They’re not here. They did send us a statement though. “The City Council uses a number of contractors, one of which is Geoffrey Osborne Limited, to carry out improvement and development projects across Peterborough. The payments highlighted by Councillor Fower are available in the Council’s report of all expenditure over £500 from January, which were available since February. Of these payments, one, for £97,764 and a bit is an instalment payment for the city centre public realm work. Another payment for £69,809 was an instalment payment for work to demolish and replace Northey Gravel Bridge. The final three payments totalling just over £1,100,000 are contract instalments for bridge repair works on the A1260. They appear to be doing quite a lot of work around Peterborough.
DARREN FOWER: They certainly seem to be doing alright, don’t they? Again, you have to look at this and say why is this type of organisation, which isn’t based in Peterborough, done so well in receiving so many projects and payments.
PAUL STAINTON: And many people not happy with some of the work they’ve done.
DARREN FOWER: You only have to go on something like yell.com, and type in civil engineers, or construction firms, to see that there are a number of businesses in and around Greater Peterborough. And you do have to think, especially during these financially difficult times, why so many jobs are being given to outside companies.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. We do have in the Council a plethora of communications people. We’ve got a Council Leader, a Director of Communications, a Cabinet member for Communications. But nobody will come on and talk to us about it all this morning.
DARREN FOWER : It is worrying, isn’t it? because there’s never been so much money spent on the communications team. I can remember when I became a councillor for the first time, there was one lady called Jenny Kendal, who did a very good job, was very good at what she did. And now, like you say, we’ve got this massive team that costs about £1.5 million ayear, that can’t even come on and give at least a few comments. I think that’s a shame.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you worried about transparency within the Council at the moment?
DARREN FOWER: Yes. I’ve been worried about that for some time. That’s obviously one of the jobs of the Liberal Democrats, to make sure that when we do find snippets of information we try and get it out into the public realm. Because again, if people aren’t interested, they do make their opinions known, but often we find that when we do share such information, people do think, well I didn’t know about that, and I think really I should have known about that.
PAUL STAINTON: Well thank you for bringing it to our attention Darren. Appreciate that. Darren Fower of the Liberal Democrats.

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