Stockton Borough Council has been buying up large, high end houses at above market rates, with seemingly little concern for getting good value for taxpayers’ money.
The Council is working with a private contractor, Spark of Genius, with the aim of bringing 20 looked after children back into the community, and claim this will save between £400,000 and £500,000 a year. Though certainly a laudable aim, there have been a number of questions raised about how they are actually going about it.
The intention was to buy four large properties in the Stockton area alongside renovating King Edwin’s School. The properties bought were at the top end of the local market and the prices have certainly raised eyebrows. Rather than negotiating the best deal for taxpayers, the council has inadvertently been forcing up the prices of the properties. For instance, it entered a bidding war for the Old Vicarage in Stillington, paying £50,000 over the £350,000 asking price for a building which will cost a small fortune to renovate.
Their questionable procurement tactics don’t end there. Another local property had languished on the market for around two years, with buyers put off by the need for extensive renovation and the £650,000 asking price. Stockton Borough Council paid £600,000 – a far from sensible rate, local residents have told us.
The problems for the Council and Spark of Genius do not end there. They claim that the scheme is designed to produce savings of around half a million pounds but so far no evidence for this has been produced. Worse, the council’s Chief Executive dismissed the likely £500,000 overspend on the £2.3 million budget as “small”, when talking to our local supporter.
The cavalier attitude towards taxpayers’ money is clearly concerning. While the aims of the project are praiseworthy, there is certainly more that they could do to ensure our money is not being wasted.