And the Leeds tech hub cash goes to … developers Bruntwood

futurelabs2It’s a funny old do, this “tech hub” thing in Leeds. Just when you think you know what it is and where it’s based, another one pops up and gets you confused again.

First I thought the tech hub was at Allied London’s vibrant waterside destination, Leeds Dock.

But I was wrong.

Then, in March 2015, I thought it was going to be at the old police station at Brotherton House. That was only because George Osborne had just announced that not-for-profit Future Labs was being given £3.7m by central government to turn the building into a six-floor entrepreneurial tech hub.

Wrong again.

bruntwood

Platform

This morning it turns out that the city’s new tech hub is going to be housed at John Poulson’s old City House above the station, a building that’s been substantially revamped and given the more vibrant name of Platform.

An announcement today says that developers Bruntwood (total assets approaching £1bn) are to get £2m from the council as capital to develop the hub, which will take up 28% of the building’s total floorspace of 117,000 sq ft.

No mention of Future Labs. No mention of Brotherton House, which was still languishing in the doldrums last time I looked.

Did Osborne get it wrong? 

councilSomething has obviously gone on, but what?

My guess is that back in 2015 the council were miffed with Osborne’s announcement (they greeted it with stony silence as far as I remember). Who was he to say where the Leeds Tech Hub should go, and who should run it?

Somehow, I’m guessing, the council got the £3.7m government cash (that was destined for Future Labs) turned over to it so it could decide.

So they set up a fund with the money, invited bids and, hey presto, today’s lucky winner of the biggest share – decided by a panel of experts and endorsed by the council’s Director of City Development – is Bruntwood (total assets approaching £1bn).

Did Future Labs bid? They must have done.

Nothing wrong with serious real estate players jumping on the tech bandwagon. It’s business.

And you can sort of get the council’s point when it insists that, as there’s no revenue funding attached, “the sustainability of projects without additional funding was the highest weighted criterion in the scoring process”.

But … but …

It’s just that if I were a member of the Leeds tech community I think I’d be going “whaaaat?!”

Reaction so far has been muted (there’s still £1m of the fund that hasn’t been allocated, so keep your heads down, guys).

tech hub

futurelabs

My guess is that there’s more to all of this than meets the eye.

Anyone in the Leeds tech community out there? What do you think?

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Councillors complain that Headingley stadium deal is being railroaded through

Headingley_redevelopmentA group of councillors have complained that the leadership of Leeds City Council is railroading through a decision to back a new funding agreement for the redevelopment of Headingley stadium.

Members of the council’s executive board are set to rubber stamp the decision at a meeting this coming Wednesday, with a stipulation that the decision be exempt from what is known in council-speak as “call-in”.

That means bypassing the normal procedure whereby councillors with reservations can ask to have the decision discussed at one of the council’s watch-dog scrutiny boards.

In a letter to the council leadership published on Facebook last night, the councillors – representing the Morley Borough Independents, the Green Party and three (former Labour Group) Independents – say there are “anomalies (in the deal) that we feel are worthy of scrutiny”.

Under the £35m-£40m deal Leeds City Council is going to take out a 40-year head lease on a new North-South stand at the stadium from an unnamed financial services company who will pay for the stand to be built. It will then sub-lease the stand to Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) and Leeds Rhinos over that period.

Why should the council take on the lease?

chamberThe letter asks:

“Why are LCC (Leeds Council) head leaseholders? If the investor does not believe that either Leeds Rugby or YCCC are in a position to hold the head lease then why should we?

“Are we convinced that a private members club, YCCC – already with 24 million pounds worth of debt – will be in a position over the next 40 years where literally anything could happen RE test status will be able to honour their debt to us over that amount of time?”

“This is not about any deal not progressing but we do collectively feel as members of council that this is being railroaded through,” the letter adds.

“Essential part of democratic process”

markd

Cllr Mark Dobson

The deal has been (and is still being) put together in a rush after an attempt to fund the redevelopment by selling off two plots of greenbelt land fell through earlier this year.

The reason for the speed is that the new stand has to be ready to host YCCC’s allocated matches at the 2019 Cricket World Cup (income that, with over £24m in debts, it can’t afford to lose), so building work has got to get underway in June this year.

It’s the stipulation that the decision be “exempt from call-in” that has the complaining councillors most concerned. They want it removed from the recommendations.

“We feel that the call-in process is an essential part of the democratic process and, in this case where the whole matter has been progressed very hastily, there are anomalies that we feel are worthy of scrutiny,” the letter says.

“The argument that time is tight, whilst valid, is only because the last set of proposals were so poorly constructed as to leave us in this situation and is, therefore, no reason to bypass any reasonable due diligence process.”

The letter ends by expressing the hope that “the democratic process and the protection of Leeds Council Tax payers will be observed”.

The party groups signing up to the letter have a total of 11 councillors, including former executive board member Cllr Mark Dobson, who left the Labour Group on the council in February this year complaining that “questioning decisions and requesting meaningful debate have proved impossible”.

None of the groups is represented on the council’s executive board. It will be interesting to see if the request is acknowledged.

There’s some background to this Wednesday’s decision in this earlier post.

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Council adds to “investment portfolio” with new industrial units at Logic Leeds

Logic 862_5Leeds City Council has added to its “investment portfolio” by buying land on which it’s going to build three industrial units at the Logic Leeds site just off Junction 45 of the M1.

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum from Muse Developments, is the fourth addition to the council’s portfolio in a year.

The main thrust of the portfolio has been to buy existing buildings with secure tenants. This time, it’s more speculative: the council will have to find tenants to fill the units (totalling 100,000 sq.ft) when they’re ready in late spring 2018.

What, you may ask, is the cash-strapped council doing, spending millions on real estate?

Well, the rationale behind the portfolio is pretty simple: the council says it can generate extra income for services by borrowing at low interest rates to make the acquisitions, and then letting the properties for more than it’s paying for the debt. A second aim is to “assist in the regeneration of the City and to invest in employment generation opportunities”.

It’s the second time the council has purchased from Muse at Logic Leeds. Back in August it bought an 80,000 sq.ft unit occupied by retail giant Amazon.

In July it spent £44m on buying a city centre office block on Sovereign Square, and in December it bought an office building at Thorpe Park.

The council says it’s been advised that demand for units of the sizes proposed at Logic Leeds “is currently very good with few competing new build opportunities”.

“The property has been offered to the council to acquire on a one to one basis off the market rather than being put to the open market,” says a council report on the purchase.

What are the four acquisitions in the “investment portfolio” worth in total? So much of this stuff is shrouded in secrecy that it’s difficult to say.

 

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Councillors sidelined as Headingley stadium deal set to be rushed through

Headingley_redevelopmentWe now know the broad outlines of the “seat of the pants” deal that’s being put together to guarantee funding of the new North-South stand at Headingley stadium.

An unnamed financial services company is putting in either £31m or £35m (depending on whether £4m of public money gets approved by the Local Enterprise Partnership). For that they get a 140-year lease on the new stand, which sounds to me like they’ll effectively own it.

Once the stand is built, Leeds City Council will take out a 40-45 year under-lease on it, paying the unnamed company rent to the value of the cost of the redevelopment. Plus a return on the company’s investment, obvs.

At the same time, Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) will take out sub-leases on the stand from the Council (either individually or as a joint company), paying a higher rent to the Council than the Council will be paying to the investor.

If everything goes smoothly, and everyone pays everyone what they’re supposed to, after 40 years the Council and/or the clubs will be able to buy the remainder of the lease from the investor for £1. That’s in 2059, folks.

That’s the broad plan, and it’s what senior councillors are going to sign up to when they meet on 19th April.

Council to underwrite £500,000 of immediate costs

fst and huttonThe trouble is that all this has been done (and is still being done) at a gallop, after the attempt to fund the redevelopment by selling off two plots of greenbelt land fell through earlier this year.

The reason for the unseemly speed is that the new stand has to be ready to host YCCC’s allocated matches at the 2019 Cricket World Cup (income that, with over £24m in debts, it can’t afford to lose), so building work has got to get underway in June this year.

But there are loads of details that need working out before any final agreement is signed.

So, if they’re still dotting the ‘i’s by the end of June the Council is going to underwrite £500,000 of the £1m the clubs say they need before a formal contract start on site. It’s not clear (to me at least) whether this will be just a guarantee, or a gift from the council to the clubs, or money that will be recouped at some stage.

(Hang on, I hear you ask, wasn’t there an assurance only 10 days ago that there would be “no cost to the council tax payer”? There was. )

What’s left to do before the deal is signed?

jackhobbssutcliffeAs a report prepared for the senior councillors’ meeting on 19th April says: “further work and due diligence is required”.

They’ve still got detailed discussions ahead, for example, on the terms of the leases and on how the council can mitigate the risk it’s taking on in the event of the clubs defaulting on their payments.

The council has yet to seek independent advice too on how much it can charge the clubs in rent, on whether the clubs’ financial guarantees pass muster, and on whether the proposed deal is compliant with EU rules on state aid.

And who knows how and when the LEP will decide whether it’s going to stump up that £4m?

Councillors sidelined

chamberIn the normal course of council events, such significant deals don’t get taken to senior councillors for approval with so many unknowns. And in the normal course of council events, ordinary councillors can call for such deals to be looked at by a scrutiny board if they’ve got reservations.

Not in this case.

Because of the rush, final approval of the terms is being delegated to two senior council officers in consultation with council leader Judith Blake and executive board member Richard Lewis.

And there’ll be NO opportunity for the deal to be looked at by any scrutiny board.

Do your run-of-the-mill councillors mind being sidelined like this? Enough to make a fuss about it?

As if.

 

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Police alerted over potential fraud at Leeds school

UK-PolicemenPolice have been alerted over “potential fraudulent activity” at a school in Leeds. A report from Leeds City Council’s internal audit team only gave the following details:

“We are in the early stages of investigating potential fraudulent activity at one of our schools. We have alerted the police to our concerns and will provide the Committee with further information on this when it is appropriate to do so.

“In the meantime, we have reviewed the internal control arrangements in place at the school and provided a series of recommendations, the implementation of which will mitigate against the fraud risks identified.”

The brief details of the potential fraud were included in a summary of internal audit activity carried out at the council during the first three months of this year.

The full report is going to be discussed by councillors at a meeting of the council’s Corporate Governance and Audit Committee on Friday 7th April.

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Changes ahead at Leeds Tiled Hall café: inscrutable council report explains

ll-tiled-hall-may-2015-at-11Watch out, you lovers of three bean salad with a cheeky pino, you fans of a slice of torte over your iPad with your morning macchiato, changes are afoot at the Victorian Tiled Hall Cafe at the home of Leeds art gallery and library.

The contracts for “cafe provision and daytime hospitality” at the Cafe (and at the City Museum and Abbey House Museum in Kirkstall) run out at the end of May and the council wants to bring the service in-house and make some changes, says a report published on the council’s website.

The external contractors (who apparently want out) haven’t been making enough money, and the council reckons there’s scope to turn that round, meet income targets and generate an extra £144,000 a year by providing “a holistic conferencing, retail and café offer across the three venues”.

They’re still at the negotiating stage of terminating the contracts, but when that’s all sorted the plan is “to provide supportive community spaces within the cafes whilst considering the diversity of economic engagement through menu choice and pricing”.

coffeeDiversity of economic engagement? Anyone?

I think they mean they’re not getting enough people in who aren’t into a slice of torte with their morning macchiato, but I could be wrong.

Goes without saying that there’s the obligatory nod in the report to the Leeds bid to be the European Capital of Culture in 2023. Obvs. All decisions remotely connected with culture will be framed by THE BID till further notice!

“The proposal supports the councils aim for hosting world class events by improvement to better linking events into our cultural offer including our aims for the 2023 City of Culture bid and will contribute to the vibrant cultural offer of the city as a whole,” the report says.

No. Me neither. And I’ve read it five times.

Make that six.

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Agreement reached for funding Headingley stadium redevelopment – no cost to taxpayer

Headingley_redevelopment.jpgLeeds City Council says an agreement has been reached to get the funds required to redevelop Headingley Carnegie stadium.

“This funding which will be provided from a private financial services company, will be at no cost to the council taxpayer,” says a press release published on the council’s website today.

The arrangement will first have to be given the go-ahead by the council’s executive board when it next meets on 19th April.

All remaining funds?

The press release quoted Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) chief executive Mark Arthur as saying:

“There is still a way to go, however, it is a significant step in securing the future of international cricket at Headingley.

“Yorkshire County Cricket Club will continue to work hard to ensure that all remaining funds are in place to ensure that the redevelopment is completed in time for the Cricket World Cup in 2019.”

Chief exec Gary Hetherington of Leeds Rhinos (who share Carnegie with the YCCC) said: “There is still much to do but recent developments are very encouraging and could provide the funding mechanism to complete the redevelopment work.”

The press release gave few details of the funding agreement. More is promised ahead of the council bosses meeting in April (but don’t hold your breath as most of it will be kept secret for reasons of confidentiality).

YCCC needs the stadium redeveloped if it is to have the chance of retaining international cricket beyond 2019. The estimated cost of the redevelopment is £39m. YCCC is currently over £24m in debt, but recorded a small profit last year.

It’s not clear how much of the £39m needed is covered by the announced deal. Leeds Rhinos are reported to be putting in £22.5m as their share of the redevelopment costs. Which leaves some £17m for the cricket club to find.

All will be revealed. Or not.

 

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