Sandwell Council legal bill for The Public revealed

Sandwell Council spent tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees drawing up its 25-year contract with Sandwell College to use The Public as a sixth form centre, it emerged today.

The authority spent £43,230.40, excluding VAT, with Ashfords law firm, starting last year, to draw up the papers for the agreement between the two parties.

This will further anger critics of the deal, as the council incurred these costs when it has its own in-house legal team and the firm used was not local – its offices are in Exeter, Bristol, London, Plymouth, Taunton and Tiverton.

The council has however confirmed, after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, that it did not incur any further costs for travelling to meet Ashfords as all meetings with the law firm were held in West Bromwich.

A petition with more than 5,000 signatures had opposed the closure, in November last year.

The authority’s closure of the centre prompted critics to say the decision was borne out of a lack of appreciation for the arts, as well as making the original investment in the gallery in vain.

Chiefs have continued to stress that the cash-strapped authority could not afford to continue to subsidise the gallery £1.5m a year at a time when it was being forced to remodel frontline services to make savings of £120 million by 2016 after Government cuts.

Last week, the Express & Star revealed the council would receive around £11.5m in rent from the college over the 25 years of the deal between the two parties. The £11.5m is based on the college paying around £460,000 rent per year, including VAT.

That figure means the council will recover the estimated £5.9m costs of remodelling the former New Street gallery – which it had agreed to loan the college. Chiefs originally said the deal would save the taxpayer £37 million over 25 years as the annual subsidy would stop.

After the full rent has been paid, the council says it will be nearer to £41.1m better off than if it had not changed anything. Critics still say the return on the gallery is meagre as it will take around 13 years of rent being paid before the college actually repays its loan.

They say including the removed subsidy in the savings figure is misleading – and this deal actually means the council will make £5.6m renting a £72m bespoke arts centre designed by famous architect Will Alsop.

Council leader Councillor Darren Cooper has said he wanted to ‘draw a line’ under discussions of the finances of the contract and focus on the improvements it will lead to in the borough’s educational offer.

Work is already well under way on the new facility, which will be called Central Sixth. It will open in September.

Comments for: "Sandwell Council legal bill for The Public revealed"

charlie17

Suggest it would have been less expensive if the Council officials had travelled to the lawyers office because these people normally charge £100 plus an hour plus expenses. Also what was the process that selected a company based mainly in the south-west and what were the advantages compared to a West Midland legal company non of this is explained in the article. Surely Sandwell have a tendering process for work with the level of expense.

Boinggobaggies

Where is the problem here 50k to secure an excellent 25 year use of this white elephant building is a bargain. This place had previously drawn the life blood out of different budgets as million after million went down the drain just to keep it open. 50 grand is small change in comparison.

JohnWishbear

We may speak up or challenge any decisions that these people in power make, but i have no illusions, they have the power, they make the decisions. We can sit here and have no say or we can shout out and try to influence change. Unfortunately those who shout out tend to be ignored, shuffled under the table or ridiculed. I have had enough! I am a working man, pay my taxes, pay your wages. Too much of my tax money is wasted and there needs to be a discussion, a discussion of change in how my own contributions will show a positive impact to my society, a society in which I live.

B Jackson

At least this cash guzzler will now stop guzzling taxpayers' cash.

funny old world

I wouldn't count on it, no doubt in a couple of years time some other costs will appear in the paper.

Mrs Ivy Trellis

Then there is the situation that the 'Change of Use' from Arts Centre to College is proceeding (Physically) without Planning Permission! Albeit, there is a Building Regulations Application (Unapproved) with works underway! Notwithstanding the lack of Planning Permission, part of the Building Control Process involves consultations with those having jurisdiction with regard to Fire, and Emergency Planning!

There would also appear to be a questionable 'Title' to the property; given that the Arts Council donated a substantial share of the cost, yet no Legal Charge was registered? Yes, this was a mistake on the part of the 'Arts Council' yet SMBC appear to have assumed 'Title!'

Local Authorities are given the opportunity to 'Grant' Planning Permission to themselves under law. However, this is controlled strictly! In my belief, SMBC have 'Overstepped' the boundaries of exemption, and are deemed to be in 'Contempt' of the Law! – Any comments on this would be appreciated.

The 'Spin' given to this article (relating particularly to 'Ashfords') is a complete 'Bluff!' Whilst members of SMBC did not travel to Exeter, Bristol, London, Plymouth, Taunton nor Tiverton (Given that they might have had a 'Jolly'); the Consultant 'Law Firm' came to them! – Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that a Graduate Lawyer has his time charged out at not less than £150 Per Hour! This, coupled with the seniority (and enhanced cost) of those attending; together with the 'Mileage Rate' (for Ashfords), would be far more than 'Ten Bellies' Cooper, driving to the West Country in the 'Village Jag!'

Evidently, we can see why Mr Cooper wants to 'Draw a Line' and move on! – I wish he would (Move On!) empowered by the electorate of Sandwell!

middley

Why use an outside firm when you have your own "in house" legal team, get rid of the "in house" team then you obviously don't need them ! And why oh why do you keep using the phrase "cash strapped" when writing about Sandwell council, the way "Don Darren " throws our money around it is plentiful !

Mrs Ivy Trellis

It is likely that SMBC were given 'Sound Advice' by their own team yet chose NOT to follow it. Then the 'Council sought Counsel' from Ashfords, who no doubt were 'Bullied into Submission' by Don Darren et al!