Farm into car park fiasco - costs spiral

COSTS for NHS Suffolk's farm fiasco continues to spiral as it has emerged today another �30,000 is being ploughed into the project.

COSTS for NHS Suffolk's farm fiasco continues to spiral as it has emerged today another �30,000 is being ploughed into the project.

Criticism was triggered after health bosses decided to lavishly spend �475,000 of public money on buying farm land to transform into a car park for staff on the site near its headquarters in Paper Mill Lane, Bramford.

NHS Suffolk, the county's primary care trust, claimed they did not need the full board's approval for the decision as it was under the �500,000 threshold.

However, today it has emerged that surveys required for the planning application, due to be submitted this month, have cost nearly �10,000 and work to turn the land into a car park will be a maximum of �20,000, meaning the actual cost of the project will be over the �500,000 threshold.

On Friday, the Evening Star called for health bosses to stop splashing public cash at a time when the country is in the throes of the deepest recession since the Second World War and the government is warning of cutbacks and tax increases.

Ben Gummer, prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives in Ipswich, said: “This is not only a scandalous waste of money, it is now clear that NHS Suffolk has done everything it can to ensure the decision did not have the scrutiny with which it clearly required.

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“Although I have said several times before, it is becoming obvious that the [NHS Suffolk Board] chairman and the board need to get a grip because at the moment they are failing the people of Ipswich and Suffolk.”

An NHS Suffolk spokesman said: “The cost of mandatory survey work (five surveys) at Paper Mill Farm is very close to �10,000. We estimate that works to improve the existing hard standing to improve car parking on the site will cost a maximum of �20,000.

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

NHS Suffolk insist the purchase of the six-acre farm land was a sound, financial investment, and claim it may sell the asset at a later stage.

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SPENDING more than half a million pounds of buying land to turn into a free car park for staff members in this economic crisis seems extravagant to say the least.

Then you remember it is public money and the decision leaves an even bitter taste.

The one organisation which should be keeping an eye on the primary care trust and curbing its ridiculous spending is the umbrella organisation … the Strategic Health Authority for the East of England. Its head, Sir Neil McKay, has reportedly been telling the county's politicians that the east of England SHA is one of the few SHAs which is fit for purpose. Surely though, questions must be raised about its lack of intervention on such a spending fiasco under its own nose.

By making such a blundering decision, the NHS Suffolk is in danger of losing its key message to keep the public's health needs at the top of its agenda.

Sir Neil should have stepped in and stopped the project dead in its tracks so that it would not have reached this late stage when planning permission is about to be sought. He surely has the power, but not the will it would seem.

However, in a statement the SHA, NHS East of England, said it was a local decision and not one which required SHA approval.

A spokesman said: “The decision to spend �475,000 on land for additional car parking by NHS Suffolk was a local decision and as it was well within the PCT's delegated limit it did not require SHA approval.”

The fact that our local health service can spend more than �500,000 on buying and developing farm land to transform into parking spaces without any need to run it past its head organisation suggests it is out of control and needs better regulation.