HEREFORDSHIRE Council has said it is “satisfied” that Hereford Futures has provided “all of the necessary paperwork” ahead of being closed down.
In a statement this afternoon (Friday) the council says it is a matter for the Hereford Futures board to decide what happens to any other remaining paperwork.
Opposition members have called on Herefordshire Council to “freeze” all paperwork relating to the running of Hereford Futures over fears document shredding is underway.
The fears arose as the council’s cabinet agreed to close Hereford Futures down and taken on its remaining projects – including Hereford’s proposed urban village.
This morning (Friday), the It’s Our County (IOC) group asked the council’s monitoring officer and its solicitor to ensure all Hereford Futures paperwork stays untouched ahead of the transfer.
Councillor Alan Seldon, chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, said the council statement offered “little of relevance” in not outlining what paperwork had been handed over and what may have already been destroyed.
“In the circumstances, the issue of shredding, whether or not it has gone on, should not have arisen at all,” said Cllr Seldon.
Scrutiny signed off on the shutdown of Hereford Futures last month. Cllr Seldon said allegations over shredding may see the shutdown brought back to scrutiny.
Opposition members left cabinet yesterday (Thursday) convinced that documentation relating to the running of Hereford Futures was being shredded, given a response to a question about when related paperwork was being handed over.
IOC councillor Mark Hubbard said there was now an urgent need to ascertain exactly what - if any - documentation had been destroyed and on who’s authority.
“All paperwork relating to Hereford futures, a publically funded company, needs to be frozen in place until these questions have been answered,” he said.
Hereford Futures claimed exemption from Freedom of Information. 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 not done so.
Cabinet backed the closing down of Hereford Futures and the council taking on its remaining projects – including Hereford’s proposed urban village - delegating 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.
Last month, the Hereford Times reported that the council has paid out nearly £3m in financial support to Hereford Futures over the past 11 years. Support in the current financial year was shown as £355,322 reducing to £130,628 in 2014-15.
The council, through cabinet, agreed to establish Hereford Futures in 2004 as a company limited by guarantee then called ESG Herefordshire Ltd.
Hereford Futures Ltd (HFL) was guided by the terms of a joint venture agreement (JVA) entered into by the company, the council, and Advantage West Midlands (AWM), the former regional development agency, in 2008.
AWM was succeeded by the Homes & Community Agency (HCA).
Following reductions in the council’s funding agreed as part of the budget savings over the past two years, the HFL board met in February this year to agreed that all members of the company, save the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, would resign on April 25 as the company ceased operations.
Negotiations have taken place between HFL, the HCA, and the council over variations to the JVA to secure the exit of HFL from its responsibilities, and the transfer of HFL functions to the council or other arrangements directed by the council.
These negotiations identified and agreed HFL functions for transfer including the disposal of urban village and other council owned properties.
Other obligations relate to management strategy for the old market development from lettings compliance to car parking charges.
All of the existing obligations placed on Stanhope and British Land as developer and financier of the old market development will remain unchanged by the transfer.
With the obligations managed and monitored by the council’s property team, approval from Stanhope and British Land is needed to allow the release of obligations relating to the old market project.
In setting up HFL, the council agreed to underwrite any financial liabilities associated with the company pension scheme that may arise on its closure.
Worcestershire County Council, as operator of the Herefordshire Council pension scheme, has indicated that, in their view, there is “unlikely” to be any further pension liability.