We were delighted to be invited by Midlothian Council to a review by council officers of the community campaign's business plan on 20/2/2014. This was an opportunity to speak directly to the professionals within the council who report to Councillors on property, finance and policy, and to ensure they understood our proposals.
From our grass-roots origin last year, we have grown in line with the Development Trust model to constitute as a company (with charitable status pending) and submit a fully costed and referenced business plan at the turn of the year. With a decision originally due to be made on 4/2/2014, council officers reported that more time was required to fully analyse and review the submissions in relation to the Council criteria. Whilst this meant waiting another seven weeks for a decision, it meant they were taking us seriously. Then came an invitation to meet with four heads of department at the council, which we embraced.
Given the patent strength of our proposals in terms of community benefit, it came as no surprise that the panel's main focus was on three areas relating to finance - start-up funding, income calculations and staffing arrangements.
- We have taken a great deal of advice on funding and we walked the officers through this part of the business plan. Critical to this, however, is that a commitment to transfer the building to the community is required before it can actually be secured. They understood this, and it was agreed that the amounts being sought from each source were realistic.
- On income calculations, the panel were mainly looking for a breakdown of how these were calculated, and they were happy with the week-by-week breakdown approach and that we were able to cover costs in the first phase with a relatively low occupancy.
- The officers were interested by our approach to staffing, where individuals fulfill multiple roles. They offered us some invaluable feedback on how our strategy could be developed, which we were happy to engage with. They made clear, however, that any of the minor adjustments we discussed would not "make-or-break" the plan for them.
We were keen to discuss ways to make the timeline from here to the potential community transferas predictable and smooth as possible, but the panel were clear that it was difficult for them to discuss this without appearing to "pre-negotiate" before they have reached a view on what recommendations to make.
Naturally we were keen to get a sense of their initial impressions, but they were extremely professional in their response. They made clear that they understood what the community is trying to achieve, that the business plan was substantial, and that there is a willingness from the Council to work in partnership with the community in the event of our proposals going ahead. Beyond that they were quite understandably unwilling to offer further feedback.
Whilst it is unfortunate that this guarded-ness has been precipitated by the competitive situation we now find ourselves in, the officers' professionalism does them credit. It helps to reassure us that their recommendations should be based on the respective merits of the two schemes. All we can hope for is to be judged fairly on our best efforts
Midlothian Councillors were planning to make a final decision tomorrow, but officials are recommending Councillors appoint an Assessment Panel to advise on which of the two offers to go for and wait until the next meeting on 25th March.
Currently they have 3 options:
What do we make of this development? Its hard to say. We don't have enough information. Hopefully tomorrow we may know more.
This is a summary of the report (comments in brackets):
The community was given until 29th November “to submit final robust, consulted and sustainable business plans for consideration against policy and land title and community consultation priorities criteria”. (Allowing three months to achieve what normally takes twelve).
It was extended until 6th January to "allow for the matter to be informed by the ongoing neighbourhood planning process at Bonnyrigg and Poltonhall; as well as the Members’ consideration of the Council’s prospective community asset transfer policy".
"The current position is....two offers had been received, these being from :
The next step proposed is "An Assessment Panel has been appointed comprising the Council’s Head of Finance, Head of Property and Facilities Management, Head of Communities and Economy, and an Associate Director (NHS Lothian) in her capacity as a Community Planning Partner."
The officers are recommending that the Full Council Meeting "instructs that a full report on the assessment of these bids be submitted to the Council on 25 March 2014"
The full report: