Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Local papers slowly piecing together the Lock Keeper’s Inn timeline ... Council not sure when they're meeting! (updated - 6.30pm)

IRish News banner

Picking up on the confusion and council investigation around the opening of the Lock Keeper’s Cottage I posted about on Saturday, this morning’s Irish News (not available online) reports

“that Iris Robinson's son [Gareth Robinson], a member of Castlereagh Council, supported a change in the official opening date of the Lock Keeper's Cottage so that assembly members could attend.” (BBC NI newspaper round-up)

Belfast Telegraph logo

It only took a week for Castlereagh to make council and committee minutes available to the Belfast Telegraph. A week is a long time to make Word documents available … though shorter than the 20 working days - often to the hour – it takes councils to respond to requests from members of the public.

Along with other local papers, the Belfast Telegraph has learned more about the tendering process for the Lock Keeper’s Inn café by going through the minutes from the Economic Development sub-committee.

According to Castlereagh Borough Council’s website, there’s little evidence that they have an Economic Development sub-committee. It isn’t listed along with the other committees on their Committee page. Though one councillor claims to part of the non-existent committee. Not terribly transparent!

This morning’s paper explains that a total of five people expressed an interest to run the café.

In the first round, one local East Belfast woman was invited “to present her ideas for the business to members” of the committee in March 2008 and was later asked to submit a business plan. Not receiving a response, she fell out of the tendering process. (Though she is now running a successful café in East Belfast!)

Subsequent to the “Expression of Interest” being readvertised, four people responded and were asked to submit their plans to a council panel by 23 July 2008. The Telegraph report that the minutes show that “Mr McCambley was the only applicant to submit a business plan by a July 18 deadline.” The next evening at the meeting of the full council, councillors voted to offer Kirk McCambley the lease.

The council fitted out the kitchen in the Lock Keeper’s Inn café after accepting “£6,338 quote from DMC Catering Equipment Ltd”.

At the August economic development sub committee meeting members were told that Mr McCambley had requested that, apart from the £6,338 for essential catering equipment, the council make a “further financial contribution” towards establishing the business.

The economic development manager recommended to the committee that it should offer Mr McCambley a seven-month rent free period rather than make any “further contribution”, which was worth £4,084.

At the August 28 full council meeting, councillors, including Iris Robinson, voted in favour of granting the lease to Mr McCambley. They also approved all the conditions such as the rent free period and absorbing the catering equipment costs.

So what does £6338 buy you in terms of kitchenware? According to the shadowy (!) Economic Development subcommittee minutes from 8 August 2008, it amounts to:

  • Stainless steel wall benches and infill benches
  • Wash hand basin
  • Stainless steel dump bench
  • Moffat double bowl sink unit
  • Extraction canopy (fan, filters, ducting, etc)
  • Solid stainless steel 4 tier shelving units

Castlereagh Borough Council logo

Castlereagh Borough Council will gather at Castlereagh council’s headquarters at Upper Galwally for a special council meeting tonight to agree the terms of reference for the council’s investigation into the conduct of Iris Robinson and potentially the process of awarding the Lock Keeper’s Inn café lease.

Given previous expeiences with Castlereagh it was no surprise to me that just after 9am this morning, the council’s switchboard didn’t have details of the meeting, and no one was available in the Chief Executive’s office to respond. Just in case local Castlereagh ratepayers want to start holding the council to account, I’ll update this post with a time and whether or not members of the public are welcome to attend.

Update - 6.30 pm at Headquarters, Upper Galwally. The agenda item is “Approval of Terms of Reference for Independent Investigations & Associated matters”. The public are permitted to attend, but as with all council and special council meetings, they have to be signed in by a councillor. (I'm sure you'll find a friendly one!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonder if it will include this line used from a similar "independent/external" inquiry

"terms of reference for this part of the investigation are as follows.... provide assurance that: a all tenderers received equal treatment and there was no discrimination; b there was transparency about the decision-making process; and c there was no manifest error in the award of the contract. "

One can kind of figure that is not an investigation but a whitewash...