Herefordshire Council defends Hereford Futures hand over

Hereford Times: Herefordshire Council defends Hereford Futures hand over Herefordshire Council defends Hereford Futures hand over

HEREFORDSHIRE Council says copies of all necessary contracts and technical reports related to Hereford Futures (HF) are secure as the “arm’s length” company is closed down.

Opposition members this week called on  the council to “freeze” all paperwork relating to the running of HF over fears document shredding was underway.

The fears arose as the council’s cabinet agreed to close Hereford Futures down and take on its remaining projects – including Hereford’s proposed urban village.

Opposition members left cabinet last Thursday convinced that documentation relating to the running of HF was being shredded, given a response to a question about when related paperwork was being handed over.

On Friday, It’s Our County (IOC) asked the council’s monitoring officer and solicitor to keep all HF documentation in place as the shredding allegations were investigated.

By today (Tuesday), the council released a statement saying the paperwork handed over by HF satisfied the terms of the joint venture agreement between both and fulfilled outstanding obligations.

 The council now claims to have a full handover report from the chief executive of HF, along with copies of "all necessary" contracts and technical reports in relation to the projects which the council will be taking forward, and a marketing pack for the urban village and a briefing on the Hereford old market development lettings strategy.

The council has asked HF to make copies of HF board minutes from the last financial year publically available.

Statutory papers and accounts for HF are also available from Companies House.

HF has also advised the council that the paperwork it has retained includes the company’s personnel files and e-mails - where a record still exists.

The statement, however, does not address the issue of what - if any - paperwork may have been shredded or records erased .

Last month, the Hereford Times reported that the council has paid out nearly £3m in financial support to HF over the past 11 years.

Support in the current financial year was shown as £355,322 reducing to £130,628 in 2014-15.

Councillor Alan Seldon, chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, said that, in the circumstances, the issue of shredding, should not have arisen at all.

Scrutiny signed off on the shutdown of HF last month. Cllr Seldon said allegations over shredding may see the shutdown brought back to scrutiny.

HF claimed exemption from Freedom of Information given its status as an “arm’s length” company.

As a response to opposition challenges to this exemption, the council had offered to publish the company’s board minutes on its website – but has yet to do so.

In backing the HF shutdown, cabinet delegated authority to the council’s Director for Economy, Communities and Corporate - in consultation with the Solicitor to the Council - to finalise and sign off the transfer.

The case put to cabinet allowed for no alternative, with members warned that a rejection of the transfer would leave the council at risk of returning assets - or their equivalent value -  in line with the terms of the joint venture agreement that set Hereford Futures up and reduce the council’s regulation of the project.

With Hereford Futures shut down there will be  a number of outstanding obligations which will need to be continued to ensure the operation of projects crucial to the council’s corporate plan.

There will also be ongoing financial and legal implications to continuing with the projects that need to be managed and brought back to cabinet, or cabinet members, as and when related decisions are  required.

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