£10m refurbishment figure ‘inflated’
THE decision to close Finsbury Health Centre was based on “inaccurate and artificially inflated” refurbishment costs and would damage health care provision, a council report has found.
The findings follow a two-month investigation by chairman of the Town Hall’s health scrutiny committee Labour councillor Martin Klute.
The inquiry was set up after Alan Johnson, then Health Secretary, ordered the council and NHS Islington to look for alternatives to closure following the decision to shut the centre in February.
Cllr Klute’s report, debated at the Town Hall by NHS Islington boss Rachel Tyndall and council chief executive John Foster last night (Thursday), says the refurbishment costing used to justify the building’s closure “cannot be substantiated”.
The high cost of about £10million – said at the time to be more than a recent refurbishment of Windsor Castle – was the main reason NHS Islington maintained it had been forced to abandon the centre.
Cllr Klute’s report states: “The cost plan includes errors, double-counting and ‘abnormal costs’. The building contractor who priced the work is a wholly owned subsidiary of the lead partner in the Public Private Partnership (PPP). Therefore, the higher the cost of the project, the more profit the PPP makes on the lease-back. An issue of conflict of interest.”
The report questions a series of key claims that led to the decision to close the building in January, including:
• The building is in an advanced state of decay.
• There can be no disabled access.
• No other funding options are available for restoration.
The report says: “A charity specialising in the restoration of historic buildings, called the Heritage of London Trust (HLT), is ready, willing and able to take on the restoration of the building. They are bullish about raising necessary funds.”
The offer from HLT comes after Labour councillors passed a motion calling on regeneration body EC1 New Deal to use £2.5million it must spend by next year on refurbishing the centre.
Lib Dem councillors attempted to block the motion by proposing wide-ranging amendments and Councillor Ruth Polling said she had received an email from EC1 saying the funding would not go to the health centre.
Lib Dem councillor George Allan – who in a 2007 Lib Dem protest stood outside the centre with a placard reading Save Our Centre – said the motion was “unbalanced and premature” and “damages the credibility of the scrutiny process”.
Labour councillor Phil Kelly warned the Lib Dems not to commit “political suicide”.
The building, designed by visionary architect Berthold Lubetkin, opened in 1938 as the first publicly funded health centre in the country. It was described as “the pride of the borough” by the radical Finsbury mayor at the time.
NHS Islington wants to shut it and move services into other health buildings across Islington.
Alarm bells are ringing among campaigners after staff warned that physiotherapy beds were removed through the centre’s back door on Tuesday morning. They fear health chiefs are pressing ahead with plans to close the grade I-listed building despite the centre’s future hanging in the balance.
Barb Jacobson, who has led the campaign to save the centre for two years, said: “It looks like the primary care trust is still trying to implement service changes at the centre before a decision.”
TOM FOOT and ROISIN GADELRAB