East Dunbartonshire Council leader defends £250,000 headquarters overspend

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COUNCIL leader Rhondda Geekie has hit back at critics of the local authority’s recent move to new headquarters.

Originally £500,000 was budgeted for the move from Tom Johnston House to Southbank Marina, but the Herald recently revealed this had spiralled to £750,000 - sparking angry responses from readers.

They criticised the decision to buy completely new furniture and office equipment for the new headquarters, accusing council chiefs of failing to practice what they preach when it comes to making savings.

SNP group leader Councillor Ian Mackay called for an urgent investigation into the overspend, which was recently presented to the council’s policy and resources committee.

He said: “We approved the move to the marina and there was no dissent, but that was on a budget of £500,000 and made sense. We will not allow this to be kicked into the long grass.”

Council officers reported back that, of the £250,000 overspend, £40,000 was spent on energy-saving lighting, £100,000 on heating and ventilation works and £50,000 on audio/visual facilities and wireless technology.

A further £15,000 was spent on a kitchen to support the hosting of events, while £15,000 was spent on roadworks to accomodate essential parking for council staff.

Derek Cunningham, the council’s director of development and infrastructure, also insisted that all councillors had been invited to a drop in session in March to have their say on the design of the new HQ.

The plans were then approved by members of the council’s policy and resources committee in April.

Councillor Geekie insisted that the outlay would pay for itself in the coming years and that the “cost of doing nothing would have been greater on public purse”.

She said: “At the policy and resources committee there was an acceptance from all parties that, although the around £250,000 overspend was a serious matter, there were valid reasons for the additional cost.

“However, there was also cross party recognition that the cost of not moving to a new headquarters would have been greater on the public purse.

“Let’s focus on the facts. Firstly, by moving to the new headquarters the council will be saving £350,000 not just this year, but every year.

“Secondly, this was one off capital money, most of which benefited the local economy with local businesses contracted to do the modification works.

“Thirdly, the future sale of Tom Johnston House will deliver significant funds for the council. Fourthly, to remain at Tom Johnston House would have cost the council in excess of £1,000,000 in upgrading works to windows, lighting, heating and other areas.”

The council leader added: “Let me reiterate the point I have been making for some time now – the clear financial benefits of moving to a new headquarters are good news for the people of East Dunbartonshire.

“To remain where we were at Tom Johnston House was not a financially viable option.”

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