20/11/2009

Ceredigion 'acting in the interests of the taxpayer' shock

In the wake of the opening of the new Council offices – Canolfan Rheidol - in Boulevard St Brieuc many people have asked when details of the prices obtained for the seven now redundant former council offices in Aberystwyth town centre will be released.

Ceredigion Council has come in for criticism for refusing to disclose the price of the sales made so far with doubts being cast as to whether the best price is being obtained on behalf of ‘the taxpayer’. Yesterday the Council defended their silence as good sales strategy adopted on the advice of the two estate agents working for them, one local, the other based in Cardiff.


Now it's too easy for Councils to use 'commercial confidentiality' as an excuse for keeping the public in the dark. But, to be fair, you don’t have to be a corporate estate agent to appreciate that the price of one large building in a small town like Aberystwyth will affect the price of similar others. And that disclosing any sales figures before the whole package has been sold could result in a lower return to the council and hence the taxpayer. That’s the thinking of the Council and their estate agents anyway, and it seems to make sense - a case of the taxpayer's interests outweighing open government (an interesting essay topic for politics students). My criticism is that, with a bit of imaginative thinking, one or two of the buildings could have been retained for renting to the numerous local charities desperate for space.

Two of the properties, which can all be seen here, have been sold so far with negotiations on others at an advanced stage. I’m assured that once all seven offices have been sold the prices obtained will be made fully public and that this may happen in a matter of weeks.

In a related development, the Council’s Highways Property & Works Scrutiny Committee heard yesterday that the new Council offices will save an initial £30,000 a year in energy bills compared to the old offices and that these savings are likely to increase over the years as fossil fuel prices rise.

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