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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Council to publish annual list of Leeds councillors summonsed over non-payment of council tax

councillorstax

Yorkshire Post  23/12/16

Remember the furore just before Christmas when it emerged that Leeds City Council was paying lawyers (with public money) to fight a ruling from the Information Commissioner that it had to disclose the names of four councillors who had been summonsed over non-payment of council tax?

The council subsequently backed down, published the names, said sorry and pledged to learn from the sorry saga.

It looks like it has now learnt a lesson. A report published today on the council’s website said the plan is to publish any such names every year.

“In the interests of openness, it is proposed that the Council publishes annually information about elected members who have been issued with a summons for nonpayment. The information would be published following a process that would also recognise elected members rights under the Data Protection Act,” it said.

Councillors will be able to make representations if they believe they’ve got “compelling personal reasons why (the) information should not be published”.

The name of the councillor and the value of council tax owed will be published even when a summons has subsequently been withdrawn after the council tax account has been brought up to date. The councillor’s details will also be published when the summons is issued in joint name(s) with a member of the public.

The list will be published annually on the council’s website around the same time as councillor’s expenses and interests are updated – in July or August.

The report said councillors were being informed of the new procedures. There was no mention of any reaction to the proposals from our elected representatives.

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Is there anybody there? Knock three times if the head of Leeds markets has left the job

sue carrol

Psychic medium Sue 

“I was very impressed with the accuracy of Sue’s reading, and I encourage everyone to come along!”

Leeds Lord Mayor Cllr Gerry Harper is holding a charity fund-raiser in the Civic Hall in May featuring “psychic medium” Sue Carrol. Gerry, who used to be chairman of the board at Leeds Markets, had a personal reading from Sue recently. And was very impressed, the event’s blurb says.

The spooky thing is that Sue, who, according to the same blurb, has given hundreds of readings since she started “doing this professionally”, bears an uncanny resemblance to another Sue – Sue Burgess, the council officer in charge of Leeds Markets.

sue_bugess

Council officer Sue

Of course it doesn’t matter if “professional medium” Sue and council officer Sue are one and the same person, or that the fundraiser’s eventbrite page makes no mention of Sue the council officer or Harper and Burgess’ long professional relationship: nobody will be being paid for anything and it’s just a bit of fun in a good cause …

Except that a voice came to me in the night saying that Sue Burgess had left her job at the council after years that have seen many ups and downs. There’s been no announcement, so I’m going to try and attend the event, despite the warning that anyone under 18 may find some of the content upsetting.

And if I get one of the limited places on offer I’m going to ask Sue the psychic medium to
connect with the spirit world to see if anyone up there knows what’s happened to Sue the council officer.

SeanceWetAfternoon

Is there anybody there?

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Bradford’s T&A getting more website traffic than Leeds’ YEP. Why?

It shouldn’t go unremarked: for the first time since newspaper executives came up with the bright idea of giving their content away for free, Bradford’s local daily, the Telegraph and Argus, is getting more people visiting its website every day than Leeds’ Yorkshire Evening Post.

With the sale of actual newspapers in terminal decline (see below), finding a way to make money out of online readers is the holy grail for regional publishers. Whether it’s illusory or not, step one is to get loads of readers.

So the figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulation showing an actual FALL in online readership of the YEP will have made for uncomfortable reading down on Whitehall Rd.

papersonline2half2016

Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is happening at the YEP.

tandasurveyIt can’t be those surveys that stop you from reading the full article unless you tell them that you’ve never thought of buying a BMW and why not. They’re a total wind-up, but they’re not particular to the YEP and seem to pop up on every regional paper’s site.

It can’t be the erratic way the pages are laid out and load: you know, that thing when you’re congratulating yourself that you’ve managed to avoid triggering the two ads for the ‘i’ newspaper app that sandwich a single paragraph in the story you’re struggling to get through … and then you end up on the holiday booking page of Southall Travel anyway.

It’s not that. Pretty much every local paper seems to be laid out online for the benefit of the advertiser rather than the reader.

yepadsIt can’t be the fault of the online design gurus back at Johnston Press headquarters either. While they’ve quite clearly never tried to read one of the group’s papers on a mobile, it’s still a puzzler why one of their titles (the Sheffield Star) should have done so much better over the past couple of years than another (the YEP) using the same design template (see the table above).

It can’t be the content, can it? As a city, Leeds delivers reporters’ staples – football, murder and outrage – just as well as Sheffield (better in the case of football, the jury’s out on murder), and all three get full coverage in the YEP. And while it probably hasn’t got the resources to match the Manchester Evening News, the YEP’s political coverage is generally fuller, more feisty and less supine (to the powers that be) than it was a year ago when the current editor took over.

So, what is it that’s holding the YEP back online? Anyone know?

Print partner?

As for the “terminal decline” of print sales mentioned above, they’re pretty much in line with what we projected two and a half years ago: by the time we’re all dancing in the street waving our EU flags to celebrate the opening of Leeds as the European Capital of Culture in 2023, it’s likely that one of the bid’s current “print partners”, the YEP, won’t be a print paper any more.

Here are last week’s print sales figures. Honourable mention for the YEP’s sister paper, the Yorkshire Post, which recorded the lowest fall in paid-for circulation of any regional daily in the UK.

papersales2half16

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