Mr Eric Pickles

Secretary of State for
Communities and Local Government

Dept of Communities and
Local Government



Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dear Secretary of State

I read your views in yesterday’s
Daily Telegraph about the waste of money at and astonishing attitudes of local
councils. Thank you so very, very much
for taking tough action.

Please allow me to recount
my tale of a soi-disant 4 star council:-

Stockport Council decided to
build a 550 pupil primary school and 70 place nursery on a still gasing fomer
toxic waste dump. They tried to do no
contamination investigations then a local person found out and they did one, a
contamination land protection officer complained and they carried out some more
investigations but not one contamination investigation point over the actual
site of the school, which is going directly over the still gasing, former toxic
waste dump. They claimed to have
complied with BS 10175. They didn’t as
further contamination investigations were forced upon them in late 2009 (one
year after the school should have opened on the contaminated site leaving all
the carcinogenic substances in situ) and they had to finally admit that the
entire site is contaminated. This leaves the council taxpayer now with
potentially a multi-million pound bill to deal with the contamination. Had they told the truth and done the correct
contamination examinations at the outset, then all the costs would have been
correctly identified. I repeatedly
raised the issue of the failure to carry out BS 10175 with senior council
officers and executive councillors but was officially branded rude, offensive,
vexatious and barred from any contact with any council officer. When I asked
for evidence of my offensive and rude nature, none was produced over a period
of several years of asking. When I
threatened to sue the Council, they put in writing that I was neither rude, nor
offensive nor vexatious. That ban has been in place since, I think 2007, and is still in place today.

Were the above not bad
enough, we then come on to the financial mismanagement of the entire
project. Again, for raising these issues
I have been publicly abused, defamed and the
Council is refusing to answer any question, either council meeting or
FOI questions, and this has been the case for most of the past four years. Two
senior Information Commission officers have told them to answer questions, but
they are refusing.

The Project Initiation Document in 2005
stated the project was a very risky one. The Council has admitted there was
never any Plan B. Why not?

2. In October 2005 the cost was put at £5.5 million and
in the official schools closure notice a place at the new amalgamated school
was promised for every child who wanted one. This school was never going to be
big enough to keep that promise.

3. By 12th December 2005 the cost had risen to £7,502,755. Why? I
am vexatious for asking.

4. In the Project Initiation Document dated 30th
December 2005 the brief was received with constraints and budget fixed at
£5,798,649, but they knew the true cost of circa £7.5 million at that
time. I am vexatious for questioning

5. 20th
February 2006 – minutes of
meeting obtained from the Council’s arms length building operation showing the
cost now to be £7.5 – £8 million and the available funding at £5.8 million with
possibly an additional £600,000. I am
vexatious for questioning this.

6. Highlight report from 15/5/06 – 27/7/06 – overall project costs now £8.20 million.
Available funding £5.80 million. Financial risk put at red. There was now a £2,400.000 shortfall.

7. 30th
November 2006 Letter from
the Project Manager, Donna Sager, to me giving proposed funding sources. No
mention of financial shortfall.

8. 21st
March 2007 email from the
FOI officer stating there would be an internal review of the Council’s refusal
to let me see any documents whatsoever on this issue. Mr. Andrew Webb, Director of Children and
Young People’s Services, told me in writing that it would take 84 hours of
council officer time at £25 per hour to read and “redact” the documents about
this primary school plus £300 photocopying costs. Request refused. No independent review of the refusal carried
out until I humiliated the Council at Westminster 6 months later.
The information briefly flowed before the total ban was swiftly
re-introduced. I knew Mr. Webb was lying
because I had already seen the documents under the FOIA the previous October, I
think, and there were just a few folders on a current issue. I wanted to re-read the documents and see any
new additions. How could there be so many secrets about a
primary school which would take a council officer working full time for almost
three weeks to remove?
wanted no photocopies – simply to read the documents.

I think between
them Mr Webb and Ms Sager must be paid about a quarter of a million pounds a
I have asked a FOI question to find out the answer.

9. 30th
March 2007 – Council agenda document at point 8 states: “obvious
concern over funding. DS (Donna Sager) to look at possible other funding
sources”. Yet at this time Andrew Webb,
presumably knowing full well the concerns over funding, was refusing all
genuine FOI requests.

10. The school was to be for 565 pupils. It was never going to be big enough and they were going to
put some pupils in temporary classrooms until the birth rate fell. The birth
rate is actually rising in the area sharply, as per a FOI reply from the
Council. In March 2007 Ms Sager knew
that Sport England’s demands meant that there could be no temporary classrooms
as there was no room. Certainly as of
March 2007 the Project Manager knew that this school was not big enough to take
the children who needed to attend and there is no room on the site for expansion. What
is going to happen to the children who won’t get a place, I asked?
But I was vexatious
for raising that point.

11. 21st June 2007 Email from Chris Woolard at NPS stating the cost was
now in the region of £8.5 million. So
between October 2005 and June 2007 it had gone up from £5.5 million to £8.5
million. I was vexatious for questioning

12. July
31st 2007. I forced the Council to let me see the documents they claimed it
would take 84 hours to read and redact.
I went to work at 7.30 to enable me to be at the council offices to read
them by 14.30. I left shortly before
17.00 out of consideration to the Reception staff. There were about four folders. I was never allowed to see that information
again. I was supposed to read it all and
absorb it in that short time, although the Council claimed there was so much it
would take 84 hours to trawl through. I
was vexatious for objecting to that.

13. July 2007 – Email from me to Councillor
Weldon, the Executive Councillor responsible, asking about the funding before
the matter went before the planning committee at the end of July. I was
vexatious for asking this.

14. 26th
July 2007 –
Email from me to the Finance Executive Councillor asking about the rising
costs. I was vexatious for asking this.

15. 22nd
August 2007 FOI
response regarding the rising costs – no mention of the funding difficulties.

16. 6th
November 2007 –
Email from FOI Officer stating they have not investigated the possibility of
putting the school on an alternative site at the Fir Tree, where people want to
keep their school. This large school site is to be sold off for housing.

17. 6th November 2007 – Email from
me pointing out that “An item in the
accounts breaks the law if, for example, it records spending or income that…
was spend on something that the Council has power to spend money on, but which
was so unreasonably high that it was unlawful”,
according to the District

18. 21st
November 2007 –
copy of risk register showing high risk of further expense regarding drainage
and contamination.

19. Document from Executive Meeting in 2008 stating
that the sale of redundant school land sites may not realize the sums they
thought. They are refusing to let me see
any background documents regarding this.

20. 10th
March 2008 –
Report to Executive Meeting identifying estimated costs of the scheme and the
funding streams in response to request from me and not because either the
councillors or officers were questioning costs. £6,690,000 was to come from the sale of redundant school land.

In this document they give the figure of £1450m2 as the figure they have
adopted within the cost plan. They give
as a reason for the rise in costs the fact that the school has increased from
2600m2 to 3185m2. So that is an extra 585m2 x £1450 which is £848,250. They quote in the document this figure to be £1,050,000. I have tried to question this miscalculation
ever since and have been declared vexatious for asking. Can they explain this
apparent miscalculation of over a quarter of a million pounds? Is it incompetence or possibly
corruption? I don’t know because neither
Donna Sager, nor Andrew Webb nor the Complaints Officer, nor the past Chief
Exec John Schulz, nor the current Chief Exec Eamonn Boylan, nor the Leader of
the Council, Dave Goddard, nor the Deputy Leader, Sue Derbyshire, nor the
Finance Executive Councillor, nor the CYPD Councillor responsible, Mark Weldon,
nor the Director of Finance, Steve Houston, nor the District Auditor, Tim
Watkinson, will respond. I am vexatious for even raising the matter. There are
set-down fraud and financial irregularities policies which state the steps that
should be taken when someone raises such an issue. It is pointless having them because they are
being ignored.

21. 15th April to 15th
May 2008 –
Highlight Report of the Project Board. Available funding £9.94 million – projected
overall costs £9.94 million. What is the
reason for the further rise in costs and where has the missing funding now come
from? I am vexatious for asking.

2008 – Financial Procedure Rules 1.4 “All
staff within the Authority are required to maintain and promote the highest
standards of financial management, integrity and administration in line with
these Financial Procedure Rules.”

Email from FOI Officer – “£3,778,000 will
come from the sale of the Edgeley Centre and Taxal Lodge. £484,000 from the sale of Bruntwood Primary
School will be put towards the project…it is therefore anticipated that the
proceeds of future sales of education sites… will make up the shortfall.”

October 2008 – Email from me to the FOI Officer pointing out – that in the
Executive Meeting minutes of 18th August 2008 the Strategic Capital
Group has considered the issue of the sale of redundant school land not
realizing the expected sums due to the economic downturn and building/mortgage

November 2008 – report to the Executive Meeting – Capital Programme Report –
“The “credit crunch” is having an impact on achieving the planned level of
capital receipts necessary to support the programme and it is likely that the
economic position will continue to have an adverse impact (sic) the lifetime of
this programme.” The Strategic Capital
Group will review all projects being supported by capital receipts and will
report back to the Executive Councillor Finance with a plan to balance the
funding position. Can I see those
documents? No, I am vexatious for even

January 6th 2010 – Proof of Evidence by Donna Sager,
Project Manager, given to a public inquiry regarding the diversion of a
footpath – “7.2… the lowest tender of the scheme is £7,631,569” (inexplicably
down from £9,994,000). There is funding available of £768,431 to meet any
future contingencies, or any additional requirements for land remediation. 7.3 It involves a capital expenditure of £8.5
million. Supported borrowing £4,036,497, Grants £2,744,430. Remediation of contaminated land can cost
huge amounts and I know at a local college over £2 million was set aside for
this purpose. The council admitted when they finally did the contamination
investigations (forced on them because I went to the lovely lads at the
Environment Agency and showed them what the Council was proposing to do and
they imposed a planning condition to make them do the further investigations)
that these examinations were done in a rush. They had had two years to do them
properly; why do them in a rush when children’s lives are at stake? Where is any further money to deal with
serious contamination problems which may be encountered going to come from?

Capital receipts amount to £1,676,000
and not the £6,690,000 previous stated. This is an anomaly of circa £5 million
from what was being told to the Executive Committee and to me.
I am vexatious for raising this.

27. 11th December 2009 Annual Audit
letter –
Closing remarks “The economic downturn, public sector funding and
the banking crisis are having a very significant impact on public finances and
the bodies that manage them. It is envisaged that there will be wide ranging
and more fundamental impacts on the ability of the public sector bodies to fund
service delivery and capital programmes in the short to medium term, including
pressure on income streams.”

28. Capital Programme 2008/09 – 2010/11 – Children and
Young People’s Directorate is having to take £486,000 from another Council
budget to balance its books

29. January 6th
2010 – Evidence stating the
entire site is contaminated put before a diversion of footpath inquiry

If the school were to be
built on the Fir Tree site there would have been no contamination costs, no
extra drainage costs, no traffic regulation order costs, no CPO costs, no
village green costs, no need to lay on sewage, water, electric, telephone, no
need for the £600,000 costs to appease Sport England, no need for outreach
costs to deprived members of the community following the loss of vital
community school and community buildings as mentioned in the Fir Tree Governors
minutes and no compensation costs. They are only getting £1.2 million for the
Fir Tree site. I assume this has now
been substantially reduced. None of the
above makes any financial sense and in
my opinion I am perfectly within my rights to question senior council
officers and Executive Councillors regarding these irregularities. The Executive Councillors have used my
apparent verdict of vexatiousness from the Information Commission to not only
ban all FOI questions but all council meeting questions on the subject as well.

There will have to be
venting of landfill gases into the school and playground area, as this is not a
stable site. As asbestos has been found on the site, there is the likelihood
that asbestos fibres will be vented out with the landfill gases into the school
building itself. Our Director of Public Health has stated that even one fibre
of asbestos can cause cancer. If this
turns out to be the case, I presume the entire school will have to be closed
down. Will the Council even be able to
insure this school? I am vexatious for even asking this question.

The 63 councillors at Stockport are paid
£934,000 pa, they receive £23,000 pa in free meals (committee teas) and they
have free parking. Most of them are not
even in work. Why don’t they have a meal before they leave home or bring
sandwiches? Why don’t they get a bus down to the town hall, as they are always
telling us we should walk or get the bus?
For that sort of scandalous money they should be answering
questions. In fact, they should be the
ones asking the questions but they are all on first name, oh so cosy, terms
with senior council officers and I have heard them described as nodding-dog
councillors, as they turn up, collect their money and simply nod everything
through – and I attend many council meetings and observe that is the case.

I raised this matter with my
local MP, Andrew Stunell, your Junior Minister and he refused to help look into
this and was really quite rude about me.
I hope this won’t be swept under the carpet because it might be
embarrassing to the LibDems, who have ruled Stockport Council for a decade and
are solely responsible for all the decisions.
The LibDems promised us clean government and promoted themselves as the
ones to bring this about, which surprised me given my experience of how they
operate where they actually hold power.

I enclose some documentary
evidence; I have masses more.

I do hope I get a response
from either you or Andrew Stunell, which I shall forward on to the Editor of
the Daily Telegraph, who is doing a splendid job saving democracy.

Yours sincerely

Sheila Oliver

Local Campaigner.

c.c. The Editor

The Daily Telegraph
111 Buckingham Palace Road

c.c. Andrew Stunell

Junior Minister

Department of Communties and Local Government