In April 2013, Hastings Borough Council was recommended by one of its senior officers to have an annual briefing from the director of SeaChange Sussex. Over five years on, no briefing has taken place.
At the meeting of the council’s cabinet on 2 April 2013, Neil Dart, the council’s Director of Corporate Resources, presented a report [pdf,p3] detailing recommendations made by the Resources Overview and Scrutiny Review of Partnership Working. The report considers whether the council should support the recommendations made by the Review committee.
The first recommendation is:
to receive an annual briefing from the Chief Executive of SeaChange to be referred to the Members’ Training and Development Group and made part of the annual Programme of Member training.
This is supported by Dart.
The second recommendation:
requests that the Council’s representative on the SeaChange Board (currently Councillor Chowney) following discussion with the Overview and Scrutiny Chairs on appropriate performance measures request a retrospective annual performance report from SeaChange, and that this be made available to all Members, and potentially considered as part of the annual briefing mentioned in the previous recommendation.
Dart is not so sure about this one. He says that the ‘commercially sensitive’ nature of SeaChange’s activities poses difficulties in terms of publishing performance information (why this should be so when the report would be retrospective, is not clear). Instead, he says:
Given that such information can only be published retrospectively it is suggested that the performance report proposed is put on hold and revisited if appropriate after the first annual briefing by the SeaChange Chief Executive.
John Shaw suggests a briefing
One might think that SeaChange Director John Shaw would be unhappy about having to give the council an annual briefing. However, notes of a scrutiny review meeting from January 2013 suggest otherwise:
At an earlier meeting, John Shaw had suggested an annual briefing for all Members, in response to concerns regarding a lack of publicly available monitoring information for the work of Seachange.
So, the Director of Corporate Resources recommended it and John Shaw was up for it. Given that SeaChange is funded entirely with public money, it seems reasonable that the company should be subject to a large degree of scrutiny. But did the meetings ever happen?
Seachangewatch became aware of these recommendations in 2016. We were very keen to read these annual briefings, which should have taken place each year since 2013, and should be in the public record. Unable to locate them, we put in a Freedom of Information request. The response came back swiftly from Hastings council. They did not have the information, and explained that:
The recommendation of the overview and scrutiny review team to hold an annual briefing with the Chief Executive of SeaChange was passed to the Member Training and Development Group for consideration. Due to other commitments, the Member Training and Development Group have not been able to schedule a briefing. However, the council’s appointed Director on the Board of SeaChange (currently Councillor Poole), continues to attend quarterly meetings of Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Services, and members have the opportunity to ask for updates about the work of SeaChange as part of their performance monitoring role if they wish.
So three years after the Cabinet agreed to ask for an annual briefing, no such briefing had taken place “due to other commitments”.
‘Not identified as priorities’
Two years later, and we thought that there must surely have been a briefing by now. We put in another FoI request, asking again to see the annual briefings. Again, we were told that the information was not held. The excuse was slightly different this time:
Successive Overview and Scrutiny Committees have not identified the updates and the reports as priorities in their work programme in recent years. Subsequently there are no annual/reports and or minutes/notes from any briefings.
Part-owned by Hastings Borough Council
And that would appear to be that. SeaChange is entirely dependent on public money. It has failed (see here, here and here) to produce the vast numbers of jobs promised locally whilst destroying (here and here) important areas of green space. And it’s part-owned [pdf,p1] by Hastings Borough Council, which always has a councillor on the board (note: SeaChange’s legal name is East Sussex Energy Infrastructure and Development Ltd). Yet the council has not “identified the updates and the reports in priorities in their work programme” since 2013. In fact, ever.
It’s an appalling state of affairs, and as long as the council continues to refuse to scrutinise the work of SeaChange, we will continue to suffer more destruction of our green spaces, with nothing to show for it. Hastings council should be ashamed.