Farm controversy - 20 questions answered

NHS bosses today defended their decision to spend more than �500,000 on a farmhouse which will be used as a car park for staff.

1. How did sale of Paper Mill Farm come to the notice of NHS Suffolk? Who was contacted by whom and when did this happen?

Answer: Informally, the director of business development became aware in autumn 2008 that the land was for sale through the landlord of Rushbrook House, who did not own the site.

2. Did the sale of Paper Mill Farm go on the open market or was this a privately-conducted purchase? Was the building and land bought at the asking price?

A: It went on the open market. NHS Suffolk secured the site at a figure less than that originally discussed with the seller's agent.

3. Before pen was put to paper what work was done and what costings were detailed for i) the building of the car park and ii) the renovation of the farmhouse?

A: Professional advisors carried out the relevant preliminary planning discussions, identified investment potential and areas that were suitable for car parking. No discussions about renovating the farm house, other than making it safe, were considered as these are not part of our plans.

Most Read

4. As the site is in a flood plain were Mid Suffolk planners or the Environment Agency consulted about any environmental issues, including the ripping up of farmland to be concreted over for parking?

A: There is no intention of 'ripping up farmland'. We will use the existing concrete / hard standing areas. The flood risk is low and the normal environmental issues have been considered. The GEO technical survey has confirmed that existing soak-aways are an acceptable method of draining water.

5. Did any discussion take place between the chairman of NHS Suffolk and the acting chief-executive that the �475,000 purchase was under the �500,000 board referral limit?

A: Yes, in December 2008.

6. Did any discussion take place between the chairman of NHS Suffolk and the acting chief executive and/or others that the overall bill, with the building of a car park at more than �50,000, would breach �500,000 board referral limit?

A: The arrangements for the purchase and development of this site are in accordance with financial instructions.

7. Did any discussion take place between the chairman of NHS Suffolk and the acting chief executive on the further cost of the renovation of the farm and what that would be? If yes, what was that discussion? If No - why not as there was the certainty of a major extra spend on renovation?

A: There are no plans to renovate the main farm building.

8. Was there at any time a discussion that such a purchase was a "reputational" issue for NHS Suffolk and therefore demanded referral to the board in any case? Which executives went on site before the purchase was made?

A: Such issues are part of our normal decision making process. The board was consulted through the chairman in December 2008 and members had a full discussion at a meeting in February 2009. The site was visited by the director of business development prior to completion of the purchase.

9. Which NHS Suffolk board members were contacted about the purchase of the farm, by whom, and when?

A: The board discussed this matter at a meeting in February 2009.

10. Was the chief executive of NHS Suffolk, who has been on sick leave for part of this year, consulted about the purchase? If yes, what was her view and when did she give it? If no, why not, as she was instrumental in the original, controversial, move to Rushbrook House?

A: The chief executive was informed of the intended purchase and of the governance processes on her return from sick leave in March 2009.

11. Was Sir Neil McKay, the chief executive of the East of England Strategic Health Authority (who had already warned NHS managers about looming budget cutbacks) consulted about the purchase. If yes, what was his view. If not, why not?

A: No. This is a local decision.

12. Was anyone else in the NHS contacted about the proposed purchase before it went ahead?

A: No.

13. Was there any discussion on the speed at which the purchase needed to be made because of looming NHS cutbacks?

A: The purchase was made over a period of four months - completing in March 2009. There was no undue haste or speed associated with this investment.

14. Was any discussion held that the farm purchase - a statement of long-term intent to stay by NHS Suffolk - could compromise any future discussion over rental costs at Rushbrook House?

A: No. This is an investment decision and is not related to Rushbrook House's lease.

15. Was this matter referred to NHS Suffolk's compliance officer?

A: There is no such post. The investment has been made in accordance with our Standing Financial Instructions.

16. What will happen to the rest of the land at the farm and what cost provision has been made for looking after it?

A: Options for revenue generation linked to community health improvement projects are under consideration. The limited grounds maintenance cost will be covered by existing contracts.

17. What discussions were held, prior to the purchase, concerning the ongoing viability of Rushbrook House as an NHS Suffolk headquarters? If yes, what were the discussions? If no, why not?

A: The current HQ is viable and economically prudent for a county-based organisation.

18. With the NHS-owned St Clements site (the previous home of NHS Suffolk) still available in a central Ipswich/close to Ipswich Hospital, was any discussion held about the possibility of a purpose-built site being there - without any parking issues?

A: St Clements was not the former HQ of NHS Suffolk, but one of five office areas used by the former East and West PCTs (the former Ipswich PCT had only limited leased office space within St Clements). In addition, St Clements is not a viable option for a county organisation which requires a small central HQ, close to the A14 in order to maintain economic and efficient links to all of its providers, which are spread across the whole of the county and into neighbouring counties.

19. Do you regret your community engagement note to Suffolk business leaders on "challenges ahead" given the public reaction to the purchase of the farm and looming NHS budget cutbacks?

A: No. Along with other public sector partners, it is appropriate to discuss the challenge of the public sector finances with community leaders to both maintain and improve services for the benefit of local people.

20. Were any other parking options considered by NHS Suffolk? For example, was a "park and ride" style site nearby discussed?

A: Yes. They were more expensive.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter