Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council continue to defend Cambridge Library against the Council’s proposals to let Regus subsidiary Kora open an Enterprise Centre on the third floor.
The call-in of the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee (HCI) decision succeeded and the LEC proposal went to the County Council’s General Purposes Committee (GPC) in March. Cllr Roger Hickford proposed a motion instructing HCI to consult, provide more information and then reconsider – and that is what was passed. What was missing was further work on alternative options to Kora.
The Library Service did consult, with two presentations by Roger Perrin, MD of Kora: one for councillors and one for the public. They created a new section on the LEC as part of the general library consultation, which was extended to allow time for people to have a say on the LEC.
An energetic and determined group of campaigners has been working on raising awareness and lobbying councillors, as well as carrying out research. One campaigner, Paul Lythgoe, submitted an FoI request to flush out the Council’s dealings with Kora. It was answered – much later than legally required – and revealed a copious series of meetings between officers and Kora.
There was a strong public attendance at the HCI committee meeting on 2nd June, with speakers raising concerns about probity and transparency as well as about the uncertain financial case – the anger at the loss of library space almost eclipsed by the fury at the way in which the decision was taken. Despite stellar performances from the public speakers and from Cllr David Jenkins, who gave us a presentation showing the flawed methodology behind the officers’ figures; the proposal was agreed for a second time – this time by 7 votes to 6. Jocelynn Scutt (Lab), Mike Mason (Ind), Gordon Gillick (UKIP) and Peter Ashcroft (UKIP) voted with Lib Dems Barbara Ashwood and myself, while UKIP’s Peter Reeve voted with the Tories to allow the proposal to sneak through.
We called it in again, this time to Full Council; working with Labour as well as with the library campaign group. We were advised by the Council’s Chief Legal Officer that it was not possible to re-call it to H&CI for a third consideration, as that would be an ‘abuse of process’. But from our point of view, Council would provide the opportunity to explore procedural issues such as secrecy, lack of competition, and procurement protocols.
In the middle of all this came yet another dramatic revelation. Phil Rodgers, a Lib Dem member, discovered that Roger Perrin, who styles himself ‘Global Managing Director’ of Kora, is disqualified from being a director and that he has already had one business fail, leaving over £1.5m of debt.
We continued with the call-in to Council, which succeeded, closing on 26 names from all four opposition parties, including some councillors who had previously backed the proposal. There will be a special council meeting, probably on 9th July, to review the motion. However, the HCI chair Roger Hickford has reacted by calling a special meeting of HCI to consider the LEC – surprising this is allowed, in view of the ruling we were given before. House rules?
I believe we still need to take this to Council because the Kora case has highlighted some deep faults in council practice, that need to be addressed at a higher level than one committee – especially as that committee has been found wanting twice on this issue.