Simons Group, the firm behind Simons Construction, the main contractor for the redevelopment of East Square and East Walk in Basildon town centre have gone into administration: Cinema plans in Basildon stop as construction firm goes into administration. The project was first mooted back in 2014 and the contract was awarded to Simons Construction in March of this year.

Squibb Demolition who were sub-contracted to undertake the demolition of the existing buildings and the preparatory work for the construction of the new development have been stood down. At the time of writing, all major work on the site has stopped. The demolition has not been completed and is as shown in the image above. All that’s going to happen is work to ensure the site is safe and secure.

Cllr. Gavin Callaghan, the leader of Basildon Council has vowed to find replacement contractors and keep the delay to the project to a minimum. It’s not like us to say this about Callaghan but we almost feel sorry for him as he has inherited this mess from the previous Tory administration. We’re sure that the residents of Basildon, in particular those of Brooke House which overlooks East Square, would like Callaghan to start asking some searching questions about what, if any, due diligence was applied in the process of awarding this contract.

It’s early days with this story and we’re pretty sure a lot more will come to the surface at some point. What can be said is that there are issues with due diligence and questions need to be asked about the conduct of the council officers involved in awarding the contract to Simons Construction and also of those councillors who presumably oversaw the process. Because yet again, we’ve got this feeling that it’s another case of senior council officers having too much power and not being subjected to enough oversight from democratically elected councillors.

There’s a pattern emerging across the local authorities we cover of senior officers thinking they’re omnipotent and not wanting to be subject to scrutiny from councillors who want to ensure that infrastructure cock ups are avoided. This is what we’ve written about this issue in neighbouring Thurrock: Thurrock Council project cost overruns – an emerging pattern.

The senior officers and councillors involved in awarding the contract to Simons Construction are supposed to be the servants of the people – that means being open and honest with them. If answers are not forthcoming and residents are fobbed off with the usual bluster and bullshit, what little faith they may have had left in local democracy will disappear.

We feel that we’re doomed to keep writing this for eternity but yet again, this is more proof that the system of local (and national) governance that we have is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. Top down governance is failing us. At some point, power has to come down to the grassroots so communities have real control over how they evolve and develop in a way that’s accountable and transparent to all.