Lancaster city council has a long history of ill-advised commercial deals formulated by council officers, that have cost local taxpayers dearly. The most famous of these, Crinkley Bottom or ‘Blobbygate’ in 1995, cost Lancaster taxpayers at least £2,500,000, and the District Auditor described actions taken by Lancaster Council and it’s Officers as ‘irrational, unlawful, mistaken and imprudent’.
In March 2010 council officers persuaded the council cabinet committee to recommend the acceptance of a resolution to close the indoor market and commit to £1,500,000 inducements to install ASCO as a sole trader. Thankfully the outcry from the public who had seen freely available information in the public media about the precarious financial situation of ASCO prevented another disaster. ASCO went into receivership just a few weeks later. The market has become an albatross around the council's neck which was due to another badly judged commercial deal with Allied Lancaster, who own the Market building, and continues to cause the council severe financial headaches.
Unwarranted secrecy from council officers keeps their commercial incompetence from the public gaze and party politics marginalises any dissenting voices amongst councillors and operates to dissuade councillors from properly evaluating the financial aspects of commercial deals with the private sector. In this age of austerity, we find this unacceptable.
EU law requires that procurement of development for the canal corridor north site should be open to competition, but our council sticks to Centros like an obedient dog.
In 2006 we saw how Centros Miller arm-twisted the Council into voting for the planning delivery agreement and we can expect that a similar situation now is marked by the unwillingness of council officers to reveal details of the 2012 planning delivery agreement on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. The council's past record of financial decisions could make a secret Centros deal a more costly mistake than any previous ones.