Decision on Falkirk HQ still on hold

An impression of what the new Municipal Buildings could look like
An impression of what the new Municipal Buildings could look like

Experts are still working on a report that will decide if Falkirk Council spends £21 million on a new headquarters.

The project slammed by opposition councillors as a ‘vanity project’ has been on hold since December after it was revealed European Union funding rules could add to the final bill.

It is feared the impact of the ‘ESA 10’ regulations being studied could land the council with a VAT demand for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In December, council leader Craig Martin confirmed the administration would step back and review the financial implications of the Brussels directive on how major public projects in Scotland are paid for.

He promised a report “early in 2016” – but now the update is unlikely to be ready before the council meets at the end of the month.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group, claimed: “We were told by the leader of the administration there would be a report by December 2015, then January 2016. Now the March council agenda has been published and still no report. It leaves us asking what are they hiding?

“Around £1 million of taxpayers money has already been committed and we suspect the lack of transparency is due in no small part to the close proximity of the Scottish Parliament elections. It appears that the penny has finally dropped with the current administration that there is no public support for this vanity project.”

Councillor Martin said “clarification” was still being sought by officers – but insisted the ambitious scheme to deliver new municipal buildings at West Bridge Street – and an arts and civic centre at Forth Valley College’s £80 million Middlefield Campus which would be part of a seperate funding deal - is still on the table.

Dismissing the suggestion the administration might be ready to do a U-turn he said: “It is very important we receive all the facts regarding the financial implications of moving this project forward. There are a number of matters which remain outstanding and that is what the officers of the council are working hard towards delivering.

“The money spent so far had to be spent to give us the information we have so far. It’s not been a waste of money.”

He maintained the idea of replacing four council offices – the municipal buildings and One Stop Shop in Callendar Square in Falkirk, the development services headquarters at Abbotsford House in Bainsford and social work base at Willow House in Grangemouth – will free up money being paid out in rent and maintenance costs to more than cover the cost of the £21 million ‘mortgage’ on the new build.

He insisted: “This project will move forward very much on the basis it is a ‘spend to save’ project.

“Our officers have detailed the cost of running the four offices at £1.9 million a year and a cost of a new headquarters at £1.65 million a year for the next 20 years, creating a £250,000 a year saving to be invested in a new arts and civic centre.

“The initial report given to councillors to consider a new HQ came from a cross-party working group that included Councillor Meiklejohn which recommended we should make this investment.

“The administration continues to support that idea, but no more money will be invested until a detailed analysis of the costs and timeline for the entire project as they are projected and a full review of the alternatives are available from our officers.”