Worthing Borough Council has announced that it has purchased Southern House, the home of Southern Water in Worthing for an eye-watering £21.27m, claiming that it is an investment that will return a rent of £1 m back to the authority.
Yet when this purchase was discussed and agreed by the Labour administration the full details were withheld from the media, public and councillors, stating commercial confidentiality. Despite repeated requests from the Conservative councillors for these papers to be unsealed for public viewing, the Labour Councillors who took this decision have hidden behind their decision. Now we have a drip feed of information coming from those same Labour Councillors stating what the rental return will be and that the council will be working with local businesses for mutual benefit. What are they trying to justify? So what are those benefits of this purchase to residents in Worthing, why is it being hidden? Will its purchase retain the existing jobs on the site or will Southern Water go and local jobs be lost? What does the council have planned for the site? Will they, as being speculated on social media, knock the building down and build more flats on the site? These are all questions that the public are asking and they have a right to know, as this Labour Council has now borrowed £21m and put that debt on the council’s balance sheets, which ultimately has to be paid for by the local tax payer, if tenants move on or default. Councillor Kevin Jenkins, leader of the Conservative group said; “Now this announcement has been made by the Council, the residents who live next to this site and who work there are rightly asking questions of their local councillors as to what the future holds. The level of secrecy is unfathomable. If this is simply a commercial investment, then they should say so and open up the papers for public scrutiny, unless of course they are hiding something. The public has a right to know what is being done in their name with their money."