Tuesday, 27 September 2016

FOI or bust

Back on the 28th July I asked TDC about the £1M they received in September 2009 as follows:
 
Dear Thanet District Council,
In or around September 2009 SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paid to TDC the sum of £1M which was to be held as surety against the said company defaulting on the building on the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.
Now the site has been sold to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd can you explain where the £1M surety has gone. Is it still in Escrow with TDC and can you confirm whether you still have any control of this money and further who received the interest?

Yours faithfully,
Barry James

Their reply

 Dear Mr James
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 28/07/2016 requesting information
about SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paying Thanet District Council £1 million
surety.
 
Your request is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and will be answered within 20 working days. 
 
If you have any queries about this request, please contact me quoting the
reference number above.
 
Yours sincerely,

20 days is  25th August

Further reply received 7th September

f No:   91901/3546716
Subject:        SFP Ventures
 
Dear Mr James
 
Thank you for your communication received on 28/07/2016  where you made
the following request:
 
In or around September 2009 SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paid to TDC the sum of
£1M which was to be held as surety against the said company defaulting on
the building on the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.
Now the site has been sold to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd can you explain where the
£1M surety has gone. Is it still in Escrow with TDC and can you confirm
whether you still have any control of this money and further who received
the interest?
I can confirm that Thanet District Council holds the information you are
seeking. Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts this
information. This is because the information is intended for publication
at a future date. Thanet District Council's Statement of Accounts are
published on its website on an annual basis and the information you seek
will be published in due course. Here is the link that will take you
straight to the correct page of the website.
[1]https://www.thanet.gov.uk/your-services/...
 
Having considered the public interest, the Council's decision is therefore
to withhold the information at this time.

This is a silly response seeing as an official announcement had already been made about the sale of the Freehold to Cardy Ramsgate ltd

I asked for an internal review as follows:

I am requesting an internal review. The information has been disseminated via councillors recently so I am bemused by your very tardy response.
Clearly you have no intention of providing this information as you do not provide any timescale and clearly hope I will go away and forget I asked

Yours sincerely,

Finally today I get a proper response apologising for  their obvious fob off response.

Ref No:91901 / 3546716
Subject:Sfp Ventures
 
Dear Mr James
 
Thank you for your communication received on 7 September 2016  where you
requested an internal review of a previous decision regarding disclosure
of information about SFP Ventures.
 
Thanet District Council has now conducted the review and the decision is
overturned.
 
In reviewing the case, the council had regard for the use of the Section
22 Exemption and the supply of a link to the council's 2015/16 statement
of accounts.  It is found that Section 22 was not applicable in this case
as it was unlikely that the statement of accounts would have given you
sufficient detail to answer the original enquiry.
 
The council would like to give you the following information which is
hoped will satisfy your request:
 
The council received £3.515m for the site. This was made up as follows: a
sum of £550k was paid in 2009 by SFP Ventures Ltd in 2009 (under the 2006
agreement); a sum of £1m was paid as a deposit by SFP Ventures limited in
2009 (this deposit together with accrued interest formed part of the
purchase price); the balance of £1.96m was paid by Cardy Ramsgate Limited
in 2016.
 
Following completion, the deposit passed to the council and is no longer
in escrow.  The council, therefore has complete control over it. It was
the purchaser who received the benefit of the interest on the deposit.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Information Governance and Equality Team 



 Now I have it confirmed that TDC received £1M in 2009 from a shell company set up as a single issue development company. It is now incumbent upon TDC to show that they identified the source of this £1M. because this money has been past into general funds it has effectively been cleaned.

So a new request has been made

Thank you for confirming what I already knew; that is the original request was correct and the response incorrect.
There is a further request whilst the files are in your possession. If you would prefer I restart the FOI process I will do so. In case you are amenable to carrying on with this as it a continuation of the original request.
The £1M surety was paid in September 2009 from a shell company SFP Ventures (UK) ltd. a device used by money launderers to pass funds to public companies which will be returned after a period of time in a clean state, which is why the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 Act was enacted.
With regard to the above act and the fact that SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd was only set up in 2006, and is a single purpose shell company, did Thanet Council make any attempt to discover the original source of the £1M passed to yourselves and placed in escrow.


Let's see what they do now.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Why didn't Labour follow through with terminating SFP's involvement

There has been much speculation and political hand wringing over the reasons why Labour, under the previous administration, didn't terminate Shaun Keegan's (SFP Ventures (UK) ltd) attempted landbanking scheme on the Pleasurama site.

The brief details are a Development Agreement (under Ezekiel & the Tories) in September 2006 and its variation in September 2009. The variations meant that the building had to be completed on the 28th February 2014, Something that was apparent was never going to happen and pressure was applied to Labour and TDC in Winter 2013 to serve notice of default and take back the land.

There were members of the local community that attended the Overview and Scrutiny that requested advice from Pinsent Mason LLP as to the correct procedure. When February came and went we all assumed the default notice had been served it came as a kick in the teeth when discussions resumed with Keegan and Cardy and to date no reason has ever been given as to why the advice from the lawyers changed.


The purpose of this blog is to speculate as to why from December 2013 when the legal adice seemed to be "serve notice" to March 2014 "we have changed our minds"

One area that has always been clear is that the DA's didn't have a "Long Stop Date" incorporated within them. Could this have been incompetence by TDC lawyers (Eversheds LLP) or were they asked not to incorporate such a date (It would have meant that failure to complete would have meant an easier job of removing SFP). It should have led to TDC having set dates to manage the project against, something they had been heavily castigated for not doing in the District Auditors report in 2001/2
I repeat "Effective project management procedures should be adopted for all projects as early as possible in the life cycle of a development scheme"
In the summary of the 2004 report the auditor is satisfied this is being addressed


Now you would have thought that this was a priority especially in view of the "materiel defect" of failing to incorporate a "long stop date".
At many of the O&S meetings we attended we asked whether there was one officer tasked with overseeing the project and the answer was always NO.

Could it be that TDC's failure to keep on top of the project influenced Pinsent Mason's advice and that when engaged TDC didn't fully brief Pinsent Mason.

I wonder what else TDC might have not told them?

It was said at the time that SFP had complained that they wouldn't be able to use Marina Drive because of the weight limit (personally they had 9 years to discover this fact) but maybe they decided to use this materiel fact as an excuse. It was certainly cited by O&S as an excuse given by Keegan.

There was also much speculation that Keegan was prepared to cite an ex-councillor for attempting to sabotage the negotiations whilst he was a serving Councillor.

In the end Labour TDC didn't follow through with trying to remove Keegan an act that has upset many in Ramsgate and possibly led to their failure in the May 2015 elections.

Labour (in my opinion) need to come clean with why they took the way out they did and totally screwed over those who had campaigned to remove Keegan & Hill from interfering with Ramsgate Seafront.

BUT nothing will excuse the failures within TDC to manage this project whether it be deliberate actions or just plain incompetence but what it really shows is Hill and Keegan are so much cleverer at levering money out of Thanet District Council. I really wonder if this is the real reason TDC do not want the Pinsent Mason report made public. No one wants to be seen as an easy mark.


 
I know which view I prefer