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Chippy had 400,000 in the bank
to create jobs. Where are they
When Parker Knoll was closed two years ago, a Joint Committee was formed between the County Council, District Council and Town Council to consider ways in which the economic buoyancy of the town could be maintained by creating new jobs to replace the 400 lost. During the Joint Committee discussions Councillor John Grantham remembered that years ago when the County Council had originally sold their land to Parker Knoll for the factory to be built several acres at the back were included which were to be held "in reserve" for possible expansion. However a covenant was put on this parcel of land which stipulated that if it was ever used for residential development then the County Council wanted a share of the increase in land value. This covenant was bought out in 2003/4 by Parker Knoll/Wimpey from OCC and was clearly worth a great deal of money. But nobody would tell us how much. Our suspicions were that it was something like half a million pounds. In a brilliant bit of negotiation John Grantham persuaded the County Council that these proceeds should be used for the benefit of the town since the value had come from the closure of the factory and the change of use of the land to residential. He argued the funds should be used for trying to secure new jobs to replace those lost. (I should point out in passing that if it hadn't been for John's insider knowledge the proceeds of the covenant sale would probably have simply gone into the County's big pot with the town being none the wiser. John is beginning to talk about "retiring" next year. Well we can't afford him to. We need his long experience and deep knowledge. John often knows where the bodies are buried. The more people that tell him that over the next year the better!!) The County agreed to this proposition. They said they would particularly consider projects where "matched funding" was available - so that their money went further!. There is no doubt in my mind that this was probably the most beneficial financial deal ever struck on behalf of the town and the debt we owe John has not been sufficiently acknowledged. We all felt that this presented us with a fantastic opportunity and we needed to make the most of it. A number of new ideas were floated and discussed at the Joint Committee - mostly seeing how new industrial units could provide a base for small industrial developments - hopefully involving ex PK employees. Eve Coles worked up and put forward an extremely innovative proposal for a venture to recycle electrical goods and computers. Some local business people proposed a "furniture village" building on local skills - a "core" company refurbishing Parker Knoll products, a consortium of small specialist manufacturers of hand-built furniture and a shared showroom. We even tried to persuade the District Council to invest some of its own cash mountain in acquiring the 5 acres "employment land" on the Parker Knoll site. (No joy there - predictably enough). Then the Partnership was formed and the Joint Committee was (foolishly) wound up. We were told the Partnership would take over its "job creation" role. In the event, eighteen months later the partnership has so far done nothing to create jobs! We have wasted precious time. Now after eighteen months the Partnership has at last asked for some money from this fund. 5,000. Guess what for. Right in one. A web site! It is frankly pathetic. What jobs will that create But in considering this request the County Council at last revealed some of their hand. In the agenda for their Cabinet meeting of 21st June it says......
"The Council set aside 400,000 from a capital receipt in Chipping Norton to fund projects in Chipping Norton. This was a recommendation of the Capital Steering Group and was reported to the Cabinet on 7 February. The aim is to help ameliorate the community and economic consequences of the closure of the Parker Knoll factory. It is recommended that 5,000 of the set aside be released to the Chipping Norton Town Partnership to develop a website which is a key part of developing and marketing a positive identity for the Town".
So now we know that the OCC have "earmarked" 400,000 for Chippy to help create jobs (although the wording of the minute suggests that might not be the whole value of the covenant sale). "Ameliorate the community and economic consequences of the closure of the Parker Knoll factory" must mean "create jobs" (mustn't it). We have sat here for 18 months with that money available in the bank and done nothing. Its a scandal.
Now we hear of another development - if the Chippy News is to be believed this week. The fund has now been raided to subsidise the sale of the old OCC-owned Council Depot land (next to Cromwell Park) to CETA. Apparently CETA were not the highest bidders. Will Barton (of WODC) and the Partnership argued strongly for a subsidy - given CETA's importance as an employer in the town. We are glad CETA are staying in the town but how big was this subsidy It seems quite possible that it might have been between 50,000 and 100,000. Without knowing for sure how can we - the taxpayers- make any judgement about whether it represents good value. What conditions have been put on the money How long are CETA tied in People want to know.
Now in a "Business Plan" to be presented to the Town Council on Monday the Partnership are looking for 40,000 pa over the next three years from OCC (A total of 120,000 match funded with a further 120,000 from SEEDA) for an Enterprise Centre. What kind of centre where How many jobs will this create We need this information. What we want are start-up units built around useful shared facilities. What we don't want is an office and administrator in the centre of town, a Trainer and Business Link advisers - it really wouldn't be difficult for such a set up to get through 80,000 a year.
What is quite clear is that this irreplaceable pot of 400,000 (which belongs to us all and which we will henceforth refer to as "The Grantham Legacy") is being whittled away without any kind of transparency. When I suggested as much in relation to the CETA subsidy, one local councillor told me "But you wouldn't disclose this kind of information to the outside world in your own business. It has to remain confidential." I don't agree. This is public money and we have a right to know how its being spent.