Carbuncle by the Mersey, notorious venue whose management encourage the punters to get legless, overrated, over-hyped barn masquerading as a 21st century conference facility. Yes, the Oldham Echo & Convention Centre has certainly made its mark during its brief existence. It now appears that its genesis was notable for a cavalier disregard of European regulations, which doesn't really surprise anyone familiar with grandiose & dubious projects in the city pre & post-08 (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2010/01/20/liverpool-council-faces-having-to-pay-back-around-2m-of-funding-given-to-the-echo-arena-and-convention-centre-100252-25637788/ ).
The Oldham Echo's piece (without a byline, btw) sheepishly admits:
"Officials in Europe have raised concern that the awarding of contracts for the complex was 'anti-competitive'."
There seems to be a pattern emerging of local schemes which we're informed will transform Merseyside being mooted &, indeed, embarked upon, without anyone bothering to check if it's all above board. First the cruise liner terminal debacle which fell foul of clearly defined & understood regulations on the use of European money, now this.
At the heart of the Arena & Convention Centre fiasco is the issue of "design & build" contracts. Again, let's leave it to the Oldham Echo to mumble reluctantly what that means:
"The issue arose after the EU Court began to investigate whether 'design and build' schemes could be at odds with fair competition.
"The Arena project is one where the design and construction of the project was undertaken as one contract.
"The council has put £4.1m aside in its reserves for unspecified clawback but admits the final figure is 'unknown'."
The rank incompetence & jaw-dropping ignorance of building projects shown by the council would beggar belief were it not for the dismal track record of Warren Bradley's merry men & women. It also speaks volumes for their inability to adequately manage the city's finances that they can't say with any certainty that the final figure won't exceed four million quid.
There are brave, bullish words from Flo Clucas, clearly, erm, designed to win over the gullible, saying there's enough cash in reserve to pay the money back. However, she undermines her own argument when she says:
"The situation is we did a design and build on the Arena, which was a contractual situation which local government right across the UK does, and it means you know what the thing is going to cost, can say 'that's what we want', agree your design and it goes from there.
"The European Court of Auditors has said that such a scheme is not able to be done in the EU without interference from competition.
"This has meant that the UK is having to reconsider what has happened on those types of schemes and unfortunately the Arena has got caught up in it."
As far as I'm aware (& I'm willing to be corrected on this), no other council in the UK has committed Liverpool's error. Moreover, Cllr Clucas' contention that design & build schemes allow you to keep a check on cost is odd given that she & her colleagues can't say whether a £4.1m bill will be the end of the matter. Oh, & the description of competition as "interference" sits oddly with a council which, through its mouthpieces on Oldham Hall Street, never tires of telling us that it is "pro-business".
Cllr Clucas goes on to tie herself up in even more knots, acknowledging that design & build "did not give other designers a chance", yet maintaining that the council did "shop around" for other contractors, & rounding off her muddled thinking (let's be somewhat charitable here) by declaring that, according to the Echo piece, "she thought design and build was a 'reasonable way' to progress schemes."
She "thought"? She's a councillor. Didn't she get the final word on the matter from the lawyers? Then again, this is the Fib Dem city council with its "let's try it this way & hope no one picks up on it" approach.