DisCHORD continues – even resignations behind schedule

Project board went ten months without meeting

Chairman ‘pressed for better disclosure’

Councillors and officials met behind closed doors on Thursday to discuss secret reports about the £6.6m CHORD project.

Hailed as the most significant development for Helensburgh in decades, the town centre improvements are already weeks behind schedule – and the latest thing to be delayed is the resignation of the project board’s chair.

Traders are still counting the cost of the West Clyde Street work.
Traders are still counting the cost of the West Clyde Street work.

Councillor James Robb was reported in the Helensburgh Advertiser as having resigned ahead of the meeting, but a spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said yesterday (Friday) that Cllr Robb had not resigned, and had chaired the meeting.

Cllr Robb confirmed: “I withdrew my resignation to allow the meeting to be quorate and take place.

“The new administration will put in place their arrangements on Thursday. I was willing to continue on this basis until then to ensure monitoring of the project continued.”

Given the level of anger and frustration from traders who have seen business plummet during their busiest time of the year, it is surprising that attendance by the ten board members was so poor.

But it wouldn’t have been the first time a meeting had been abandoned because not enough people turned up – the July 2012 meeting was inquorate.

The board did manage to meet again in August 2012, but the next meeting was not until June 19 this year, and Thursday’s meeting was the only one since then, even though the work has been beset by delays and controversy.

New-look pavements are still not complete
New-look pavements are still not complete

A council spokesperson said: “Board meetings are called at the request of the chair or project manager, or if there is a particular need or issue requiring the board to convene.

“Following the go-ahead last August to prepare tender documents, the design team were working for several months on these, as is normal in such a process.

“Although the board did not meet during this period of work, there were informal meetings to update elected members on progress. “

When the board did finally meet last week, the only substantive item heard in public was a verbal presentation about artworks – an order was then made for everything else to be discussed behind closed doors.

Agenda reports headed Highlight Report, Risk Register, Programme Plan, Progress Summary and Lighting Review were all restricted after elected members followed the recommendation of council officials.

By law, all council meetings in the UK should be held in public, unless they discuss items listed in several paragraphs of the Local Government (Scotland) Act.

In this case paragraph 9 of the Act was cited for all the agenda’s private items: “Any terms proposed or to be proposed by or to the authority in the course of negotiations for a contract for the acquisition or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services.”

This is in contrast to the June 2013 meeting, when items with remarkably similar headings – Progress Update, Highlight Report and Budget Statement  – were all discussed in the public part of the meeting.

Former council leader James Robb is still chairing the board - for now
Former council leader James Robb is still chairing the board – for now

Cllr Robb, who chaired the latest meeting after all, said he had received no response to his requests for the papers to be presented in a form that would allow much more information to be put into the public domain.

“I continue to press for better disclosure as this is public money being spent but at certain points certain information may well be commercially sensitive,” he said.

“However once additional costs and time extensions on the contract are agreed by both parties I can think of no reason why that information is not publicly available.”

See also: OPINION – whatever happened to transparency?

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