CLEC Inquiry: Koragate and what went so wrong

The County Council is conducting an inquiry into procedural mistakes made with the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre decision (now rescinded).

The Chair of the Council’s Audit & Accounts Committee, Cllr Mike Shellens, has called for submissions from the public as well as from councillors. If you would like to contribute, please email your submission to [email protected] The deadline has been set as 17th August but it is hoped this will be extended, given the holiday period. The deadline is 24th August. For full details of how to participate, see the County Council’s website.

Here is my submission:

Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre

Introduction
I write as a member of the Highways & Community Infrastructure (HCI) Committee. Since May 2015 I have been the Liberal Democrat spokes on that committee, which has responsibility for the Library Service amongst other functions. I was previously spokesperson for libraries in 2013-14 when libraries came under the Resources portfolio.

Background
Some time in 2013 Kora-Regus approached Cambridgeshire County Council with a proposal to create an enterprise centre on the third floor of Cambridge Central Library. Despite being the spokes for most of 2013, I was unaware of the CLEC proposal until it was presented to us in our agenda pack for the HCI meeting of 17th March 2015. This was about a week before the committee meeting at which we were being asked to take a decision. Cllr Susan van de Ven, our spokes at the time, told us that she had only been made aware of the proposal late February 2015 at a spokes meeting. The item had been marked confidential.

Given that officers had been in discussion with Kora since 2013, it is inexcusable that this was kept secret from most members for such a long time, not only because of the lack of transparency but also because we did not have enough information to make a decision. I also question why our spokes was asked to keep the matter secret: how could she possibly have briefed or taken soundings from our group?

I was inclined not to support the proposals for the following reasons:
we had little background on Kora and no evidence of its effectiveness
the case for closing the library café was weak
there had been a complete lack of consultation with library users or the general public

I shared my concerns with Lib Dem colleagues Barbara Ashwood and Susan van de Ven when we met to discuss this and other agenda items – our usual practice before a committee meeting. We agreed on questions which we would put to officers before the meeting, and that at the meeting we would ask to defer the proposal until we had a presentation by Kora and public consultation.

On March 17th , our amendment requesting consultation and working up of alternative options was lost and the CLEC proposals were passed, with 12 members for and 1 against (myself). Three other members (Ashwood, van de Ven and Kavanagh) abstained.

We requested a decision review by General Purposes Committee. That committee’s 14th April meeting was attended by several members of the public and by Julian Huppert MP, whose support we had sought. A 3,000 signature petition against the plans was presented by Sara Payne. GPC referred the item back to HCI for reconsideration following consultation and more information from officers.

Following the meeting, officers arranged a presentation for councillors by Kora’s Global MD Roger Perrin, and a public meeting on the CLEC on 6th May. The councillor presentation did nothing to allay my doubts about Kora’s competence: I asked Mr Perrin what research he had done into his potential client base in Cambridge and what evidence he had of demand for additional enterprise centre services. He told me that no research had been carried out.

At the end of May, a FoI request response exposed the fact that officers had held no fewer than 37 meetings with Kora. The County responded very late, just a few days before the 2nd June HCI meeting at which the proposals were reconsidered. The series of meetings was referred to during the debate by the public speakers as well as by councillors. Despite robust and well argued opposition from councillors plus the public, the proposal went through again, although this time the vote was close: 7-6 in favour.

We called the decision in again, this time to Full Council. On 5th June, there was another important revelation: a local blogger, Phil Rodgers, published his findings that Roger Perrin, who styles himself ‘Global Managing Director’ of Kora, was disqualified from being a director in the UK and had already had one business fail, leaving over £1.5 million of debt.

This resulted in the proposals being suspended and in the chair of HCI calling a special meeting to review the decision in the light of the new information. The committee met again on 26th June and rescinded the decision. This time the vote was unanimous, apart from the Labour committee member, who questioned whether the committee retained powers to revoke the decision, given that there had been a Full Council call-in. (This is a moot point and should be clarified in our constitution.)

Political and democratic context
This proposal has attracted an extraordinary level of public engagement:
three demonstrations against the proposals outside Shire Hall and Central Library
a 38 Degrees petition with nearly 4,000 signatures
campaign group with over 200 supporters on Facebook as well as petition signatories
Freedom of Information requests
research into Kora
big attendances at council meetings
public speakers
an unprecedented number of correspondence with councillors – email, phone calls and letters
high volume of comments, both in the public consultation and in the library comments book

Despite well researched and presented arguments, opposition to the proposals was on the whole politely ignored by the Conservative members of the committee.

What went wrong?
Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of giving up library space to create an enterprise centre, there were several flaws in process:

Lack of competition
Officers pursued an unsolicited proposal from an unknown company without offering the opportunity to other bidders.

Secrecy
A senior officer signed a confidentiality agreement, which compromised her.
The CLEC proposals and negotiations were not divulged to councillors until as late as possible, despite meetings having been taking place since December 2013.
There had been no consultation whatsoever with the public or even with library users.
The only justification for the suppression of information was that the company had requested confidentiality. The secrecy clearly advantaged Kora as it kept the field clear for them, but the officers should not have agreed to withold information from council members.

Poor reporting
Councillors were expected to take a decision on inadequate facts – there was some sketchy information on Kora, the preferred partner but hardly any on the two alternative options. The financial projections were dubious and, as my colleague Cllr Jenkins showed at the third meeting, did not compare like with like when assessing Kora alongside the in-house options; they also failed to take into account existing income from room lettings. Effectively, we as councillors were not equipped to do our job.

Standards
Kora-Regus has a poor reputation amongst existing users and avoids paying tax in the UK. Although they act within the law, it is questionable whether an organization that avoids paying its taxes is an appropriate partner for a local authority.

Lack of due diligence
The Council should have checked the credentials of Kora and the chief negotiator more thoroughly. Given that it was prepared to commit public money to reconfiguring the library in preparation for the CLEC, the Council should also have researched the viability of the project, or required evidence from the partner company of unmet demand for enterprise centre services and that the projected income would materialize.

Amanda Taylor
Cambridge
August 2015

TIMELINE (including links to minutes and web posts.)

2013
December CCC holds first meeting with Kora

2015
Late February Party spokespeople briefed
w/b 9th March HCI members presented with report for decision on 17th March
17th March HCI committee CLEC #1. Passed 12-1.
14th April General Purposes Committee. 38 Degrees petition presented. CLEC decision reviewed.
28th April Kora presentation to councillors at Shire Hall
6th May Public meeting on CLEC at Central Library
29th May FoI request response reveals 37 private meetings between Kora and CCC
2nd June HCI committee CLEC #2. Passed 7-6.
5th June CLEC suspended after revelations Roger Perrin was serving a disqualification
26th June Special HCI meeting CLEC #3. Rescinded 12-1.

Call-in councillors

The following county councillors requested that the Full Council review the decision to allow Kora to open an Enterprise Centre at Cambridge Central Library: 12 Liberal Democrats, 6 Labour, 4 Independents and 4 UKIP.

1. Cllr Scutt
2. Cllr Kavanagh
3. Cllr Sales
4. Cllr Taylor
5. Cllr Manning
6. Cllr Cearns
7. Cllr Mason
8. Cllr Ashwood
9. Cllr Jenkins
10. Cllr Leeke
11. Cllr van de Ven
12. Cllr Downes
13. Cllr Shellens
14. Cllr Williams
15. Cllr Hipkin
16. Cllr Giles
17. Cllr Lay
18. Cllr Divine
19. Cllr Bywater
20. Cllr Ashcroft
21. Cllr Wilson
22. Cllr Nethsingha
23. Cllr Onasanya
24. Cllr Walsh
25. Cllr Crawford
26. Cllr Van De Kerkhove

+ Cllr Gillick, whose request was received after the 3-day deadline

Kora — kaput

rescind On Friday, Cambridgeshire County Council‘s Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee rescinded its earlier decisions to allow Kora-Regus to set up an Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library.

Conservatives on the County Council, who had previously voted through the proposal en bloc (first in March and again in June), this time voted to rescind the decision and for council officers to identify alternatives.

Councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Independent and UKIP groups had opposed the Kora plan on the grounds of inadequate evidence as well as its impact on the library service. We were especially angry about the clandestine way in which the Kora project was pursued by officers. An Freedom of Information request by Paul Lythoge revealed that there had been 37 secret meetings between the council officers and Kora. A confidentially agreement had effectively suppressed information from members of the Council charged with responsibility for the library service.

The decision was first taken in March. I opposed it, but the Tories and the UKIP vice-chair voted it through. I was successful in leading a call-in resulting in the decision being reconsidered on 2nd June. This time I was not the only councillor to vote against as the vote was 6-7; again, the BluKip band rubberstamped the officers’ proposals.

It was only when the Kora MD was exposed as being in the middle of a disqualification by the investigative local blogger Phil Rodgers that the Tories withdrew their support.

Tory Cllr Steve Crisell described himself as “embarrassed, disappointed and angry” and vowed to investigate individuals concerned, but acknowledged the “goodwill and ideas” of the library campaigners.

The committee passed a motion to rescind its previous decisions and also:

“To request the Executive Director of ETE to identify alternative options for increasing income at Cambridge Central Library by working with Central Library staff, an elected members group and library users to explore all options which may include developing a cultural and educational centre for Cambridge and the County”.

Library Enterprise Centre: next stop Council

To:
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire County Council
Quentin Baker, Chief Legal Officer, Cambridgeshire County Council

I wish to request a review of the decision on the Enterprise Centre taken at
Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee on 2nd June, and would like it to
be debated at Full Council, or at GPC, should the quorum of members requesting a
review be lower than 24.

  • Members did not have enough information to make an informed decision:
  • Alternative options to the KORA proposal were not properly researched.
  • Financial projections for KORA had no evidence to support them.

Amanda Taylor

Controversy still rages over the Tory proposals to let out Cambridge Library to a private firm. Proposals were first put to councillors  on the Highways & Community Infrastructure committee in March to allow private firm Kora to take over most of the third floor of Cambridge Library to create an Enterprise Centre. I voted against, but Tory and UKIP councillors banded together to vote the proposal through.

I led a call-in of the decision, leading to the decision being revoked and the Highways committee being asked to reconsider, following consultation and extra information.

So we debated it again this week.

Frustratingly, Tory councillors and the UKIP vice-chair once again banded together to drive through the proposals, despite woefully sketchy information on alternative options and the Kora business plan and financial projections being extremely dubious. With a great deal of work by a campaign group formed from the 38 Degrees petition to save the library, we had hoped to carry the day, but in the end, the vote went in favour of the Kora proposals 7-6.

Colleagues and I have now asked for the Full Council to review this decision, as we not only deplore the impact on the rest of the library operation, but we question the credibility of the financial case that is the raison d’être of this ill thought out proposal. And if it doesn’t make money, why compromise the library service?

We need to get 24 councillors to request a review. If we pass that hurdle, the next one is to get a majority vote at Council to change the recommendation. That will need a simple majority of the county councillors present to vote for a change – 35 out of 69 if everyone attends. A simple majority — but not at all simple to achieve.

We will need some minds to change. Perhaps you can help us by talking to your friends who live outside Cambridge, and ask them to talk to their county councillors?

For background on the proposals, we have produced some FAQs. Please see http://amandataylor.focusteam.org/2015/04/29/cambridge-library-and-the-tory-enterprise-centre-faq/#page-content

Cambridge Library and the Tory Enterprise Centre: FAQ

Cambridge Central Library: Kora option for an Enterprise Centre FAQs

Liberal Democrat councillors led the way toward securing a public consultation and forcing a reconsideration of options, and specifically reconsidering the officer-recommended Kora option, for an Enterprise Centre at Cambridge Central Library.

The process has been flawed; other options have not been evaluated and the ‘preferred’ Kora option may not stand up to closer scrutiny.

1. How long had officers been negotiating with Kora for an Enterprise Centre on the third floor of Cambridge Central Library?

Since January/ February 2013, according to the County Council’s Head of Community and Cultural Services at one of the KORA meetings.

2. When did councillors learn about Kora’s role and officer negotiations?

Members of the Highways and Community Infrastructure (HCI) Committee first learned about this in the lead-up to their March 17 meeting, when they were asked to make a decision endorsing the officer recommendation to go forward with the preferred option of working with Kora to develop an enterprise centre.

The concept of an enterprise centre had been publicly discussed for many months and was endorsed by committee members, but knowledge of Kora’s role and contractual negotiations was not shared by officers with councillors except for those in the Cabinet in 2013.

3. Did any councillors outside the HCI committee know about the proposals?

The Conservative Cabinet members serving at the time of the inception of the proposal – autumn 2013 (see the Leader of the Council’s response on this). The current cross-party HCI committee came into being in May 2014.

4. Did any councillors challenge the officer recommendation to proceed with the Kora option?

Yes. At the March 17 HCI meeting, Lib Dem Councillor Susan van de Ven proposed an amendment, seconded by Lib Dem Cllr Amanda Taylor:

to defer the decision to develop and Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library, pending receipt of further detailed information on the proposals, including the opportunity to question Kora, and the opportunity for a robust consultation exercise.

This amendment was supported by Cllrs Barbara Ashwood and Noel Kavanagh.

The amendment was rejected by the rest of the HCI committee – all of the UKIP, Independent and Conservative members – who then voted and resolved:

a) to approve the development of an enterprise centre within Cambridge Central Library;
b) to enter into an agreement with Kora (part of the Regus Group) to create and run the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre (CLEC); and
c) to delegate to the Executive – Director of Economy, Transport and Environment in consultation with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee authority to approve the final negotiations required to complete this project.

Cllrs van de Ven, Taylor, Ashwood and Kavanagh did not support the decision.

5. Was this decision then challenged?

Yes. Cllr Amanda Taylor led a ‘call-in’ of the decision which was considered by the General Purposes Committee (GPC) on 14 April. The GPC agreed unanimously to send the matter back to the HCI committee on 2 June, and to ask for the public’s views in a consultation exercise.

6. Will the HCI committee consider the other two Enterprise Centre options put forward on 17 March, alongside the Kora option?

That was the expectation and we requested that those options be more fully worked up to create a level playing field – and we are disappointed to see that the officers have still not provided enough details on the other options to enable us to take an informed decision.

7. Will members of the public be consulted on next steps?

Members of the public were consulted on the Enterprise Centre proposals through the library consultation exercise, which closed on 10 May, and a public meeting was held at the library on 6th May.

8. Which councillors take the decision? The Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee: details here.

Cambridge Central Library plans — who knew? Tory Leader knew last year.

Tory county councillors and officers have been talking to KORA for over a year about their opening an Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library, and the Tory Leader of the Council has admitted he knew about a year ago – yet defends the secrecy.

Cllr Steve Count is Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and last year was the councillor in charge of library services. At this week’s council meeting I asked him how long he had known about the plans to allow KORA to create an Enterprise Centre in the library.

Cllr Amanda Taylor: My question is to the Leader of the Council and it relates to the Council’s plans to allow a private firm, KORA, to take over the third floor of the Central Library which, as the councillor knows, has caused consternation amongst the people of Cambridge.

My question is a simple one and I hope that you will be able to answer it simply:

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN AWARE OF THESE PLANS?

Cllr Steve Count: Yeah, thank you, thank you. I couldn’t give you the exact date. I certainly believe that I was the Cabinet Member for Resources & Performance (May 2013-May 2014) so we’re going back quite a while ago when the idea first got discussed. Now after leaving that position … err, not leaving, being kicked out under the new system is more appropriate!  … after changing that position, that went to the Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee which Roger is chairman of, and plans, I guess, continued to be worked up there. How much involvement before it went to the papers I don’t know, but that’s my total answer I can give you.

Cllr Taylor: As the Leader of the Council now, I would assumethat although Cllr Hickford is chair of the HCI committee, I assume that you still had knowledge of these matters. Do you agree that in hindsight it would have been appropriate to have made these negotiations known to members of this Council more than a week before the committee at which this was debated and agreed?

Cllr Count: No, I can’t support that and I’ll tell you why. The reason I didn’t make anything available to anyone else whilst I was the Cabinet Member is that it never got to the stage that there was a formal proposal on the table. The discussions batted backwards and forwards between us and the officers as to whether it would ever ever ever come to fruition.

Now I know that I lost track of it to a certain degree after it went to H&CI – but there is a confidential element to this and actually building up the business case on whether it was something we would ever want to do was based on that confidential information. You wouldn’t go out and want to start hares running before you could actually know something was going to happen at the end of the day. So no, I think that I’m comfortable in my decision on that.

See

for the streaming of the council meeting. My question comes 2 h 25m into the video.

Cambridge Central Library: huge public outcry

Cambridge Library_VJSThe people of Cambridge have reacted angrily to Cambridgeshire County Council‘s decision to allow a private firm to take over the third floor of Cambridge Central Library to create an Enterprise Centre. A petition launched by local resident Claire Dylan has attracted over 1,300 signatures in just a few days.

The decision was made on Tuesday by a council committee comprising councillors from all over Cambridgeshire. Although most of the councillors representing city wards criticized the proposal, councillors representing the villages in the rest of the Cambridgeshire outvoted us. For a report on how the meeting went see here, and for the council report see here.

We have big doubts about KORA, the company set to take over the third floor of the library, and we need much more information on them and how they would be operating: for example, would people have to pay to sit and read in that part of the library under their management in future? We also strongly believe that the library members should have a say in such a huge change, as well as the public of Cambridge. It is after all a PUBLIC LIBRARY.
My colleagues and I have called for the decision to be reconsidered so that councillors can be fully informed about this company and so that consultation with the public can be carried out. Our call-in has been successful and this will be looked at again by a committee of senior councillors on 14th April (10am).
Huge thanks to all those who turned out today to demonstrate public dismay at the proposals and to meet Julian Huppert MP, who is backing the project.