Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has written to Argyll & Bute Council Chief Executive Sally Loudon regarding the sale of Castle Toward.
An offer for the Castle – which was the subject of a failed community bid some months ago – was accepted in principle by the Council at its full meeting last Thursday. However information about the offer , including the name of the bidders, was not released by the Council allegedly at the insistence of the prospective purchasers, although they commented on the record to the press the next day.
Details of the bid are now emerging and Mr Russell has indicated he believes they raise very significant questions that require answers.
In his email to Ms Loudon Mr Russell calls for an independent inquiry into the sale of the Castle and asks the Council to back him in seeking the appointment of an individual to do so by the Government. He then goes on to raise ten questions that he believes that Council should answer at an early date. The questions are appended below.
Commenting on the email, Mr Russell said :
“This issue won’t go away. Whilst everybody wants the Castle to be occupied and used it is important that the community and local voters understand what process is being followed . In particular they need to know that there were no discussions with another purchaser during the period that the buyout was being attempted , hat the price obtained was well in excess of what they offered and that the proposals are coherent and achievable.
There are some doubts on all those issues and there are also concerns that the way in which this new private bid was considered was and remains very different from the way their bid was treated.
I hope the Council will be completely open about these matters but the secrecy surrounding the offer – now seem to be utterly necessary – does not bode well. Argyll & Bute makes use of “exempt items” on its agendas very frequently and these prevent public scrutiny and press reporting. They should be the limited exception rather than the increasingly frequent rule, a matter I and others have raised with Audit Scotland”
The questions asked by Mr Russell are as follows:
1) When did the prospective purchasers first approach the Council ?
2) What discussions did the Council have with the prospective purchasers prior to the end of the Community Bid in February?
3) Did any Councillor or official name the prospective purchasers and their company tor councillors in January and/or February when asked about alternative bids should the community bid fail ?
4) Why did the leader of the Council affirm at the time of the community bid that the property would not be sold for less than the valuation when the property is now being sold for less than the valuation?
5) Given that the purchase price of £1.51 million is divided into three parts, the first of which (£1.1 million) is due on the 30th of September will the council confirm that it did not offer the community a chance to match that price and why it did not do so ?
6) Will the Council confirm the total cost to the Council since the failed community purchase concluded regarding security and maintenance up to 30th September and indicate how far ,if at all, that sum added to the community offer made in February differs from the sum due on 30th September.
7) Will the Council publish the terms under which the balance of the purchase price will be due and indicate what the Council will have to do to secure that balance and within what timescale.
8) Will the Council indicate what due diligence was undertaken on the bid from the prospective purchasers and in particular what assurances and guarantees were given regarding the eventual expenditure of £28 million on developing the site as estimated by the developers and quoted in the report to the Council?
9) Will the Council indicate what advice was given to Councillors regarding the sources of funding for the bid by the prospective purchasers given that , for the community bid, much adverse comment was made by officials regarding the communities heavy dependence on public funds ?
10) What external assessment of the bid by the prospective purchasers was either offered by the developers or sought by the Council given that the community bid was positively assessed by HIE , the Scottish Government and the Scottish Land Fund ?