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News and Comment January 2012

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2 January (Part 2) - Another magic half million saved

Wyncham House Wyncham HouseBexley council is selling Wyncham House, home to its planning department. It is where you can go and inspect planning applications on demand. According to the sales blurb Wyncham House is 2,070 square metres over four floors, “constructed in 1992” and “within a short walk of Sidcup railway station”.

The council announced in its magazine that the 120 staff will be “moved to other sites in the borough” early this year and that “Customers with planning and building control enquiries will be able to make these at the more accessible Contact Centre at the Bexleyheath Civic Offices”. Not more accessible if you visit by train and more expensive by car and not very accessible if the document or person you wish to see is based in a different building but don’t expect the whole truth from Bexley council.

The reason for the sale of Wyncham House is said to be that vacating it will save £535,000 a year. If there is spare office space hanging around doing nothing but costing money why wasn’t it used before? If dispersing staff around decrepit old buildings cost any less, let alone enormously less, than keeping them in an almost new building why has so much effort been expended on plans to get everyone under the same ‘Woolwich’ roof? Is that £535k. the annual cost of Wyncham House or is it the difference in the cost of Wyncham House and cheaper accommodation in other council buildings? It looks like time for an FOI.

Needless to say, Bexley council declined to answer the Freedom of Information request (ref. 11/1207) about the running costs of Wyncham House. Commercially sensitive they said; so we are left to guess where the £535,000 comes from. Probably the same magician’s hat as the £3 million of savings on recycling which doesn’t stop the recycling budget getting slightly bigger each year.

Typical office maintenance costs are not easy to find. East Sussex County Council is on record as saying it is close to 1% of its capital cost but concedes that “the 2005 BCIS Review of Maintenance Costs suggests that the appropriate level of expenditure for local authorities, given the level of required maintenance, should be something closer to 3·6%”. (BCIS - Building Cost Information Service.) A university says their maintenance costs come to just under £54 per square metre per annum. At that rate £535,000 would allow more than 9,900 sq. metres to be maintained, very nearly five times the size of Wyncham House.

But Bexley council isn’t claiming that it spends £535,000 on Wyncham House, their word “saving” implies that it is the difference between the cost of keeping it open and the cost of running some other place. It looks like a lot of money and if Bexley council won’t provide any figures I am left to speculate that their financial juggling owes more to the way landlords manipulate holiday deposits, than sound accounting procedures, for it is councillor Colin Campbell who is in charge of the Wyncham House sale. The News Shopper reports “Cabinet member for finance and corporate services, Councillor Colin Campbell, said about the sale of Wyncham House, "This is a positive step for the council in reducing its office space and so its running costs”.


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