Friday, 12 April 2013

What are the council thinking!

It's hard to find the words this morning. The council are going ahead with a second surf school in the car park - it's now a fact. The Polzeath that you and I love, won't be the same. The reasoned arguments that you took time to write down and send to the council officers, have fallen on deaf ears. The issues of overcrowding in the surfing area and the extra bodies walking between the cars in the car park have been superceeded by the need to raise money to pay for, and I quote, "Beach services such as beach cleaning." 
We went to a meeting on Wednesday at 3pm with the council to dicsuss the tender - we sat opposite the three council muskateers - David Attwell, Joylon Sharpe and Phil Jones (there was a forth person, a lady called Ann taking the minutes, she was lovely. Get out of there Ann before it's too late!)) - and we discussed all the points. What we argued was considered, both sides had their say. After the 90 minutes myself and Janey went to Morrissons for mug of coffee. I can't deny the thought of eighteen years of hard work going down the pan has put a huge strain on our relationship. We have our boys, but the surf school is like another child to us. We married a few weeks before we started Surf's Up! - it's all we know. Surf's Up! is a family business. We worked hard to create something that was different, that gave back. And we're comfortable that we've done that. We summised that the meeting had gone well and we'd said what we wanted to say.
And then I received a phone call yesterday to say the following - that we'd been successful in our bid, but that there would be a second surf school located some five yards away. I don't see that as being successful to be honest. That wasn't the end of it though. When we submitted our bid, there were many questions unanswered. Our biggest was that if we decided to put in a tender bid, how could we value the pitch without knowing what the second site would be? On many occassions the council gave the strongest indications, particularly following your considered letters, that it probably wouldn't be a surf school. If it was it would devalue our pitch. If it was a Costa Coffee cabin, then we might take the view that foot fall would be increased. We asked, and we asked, and we stopped short of blowing the house down. But no little piggies came to the door to answer our questions. The difference in the valuation could have been as much as £15k - so as the deadline approached what were we to do? We did the obvious - we submitted a tender with a sum that reflected our position. We offered to continue to pay at the rate we had done over the past 6 years - £20k a year.... but that if the new trading site was to be offered to a new surf school we reserved the right to negotiate the tender sum. With complete silence from the council on the issue, this made complete sense. We know that we couldn't run a sustainable business paying £20k a year with a surf school a few large strides in the sand away. And the reality is also that you wouldn't want us to. Three large surf schools, going as hard as they can, head to head to teach as many people as we can to pay the licence fee. That's not what anyone would want. 
Are you with me so far? Good. Now hang in there because this next bit will knock you out. The phone call I received yesterday from Phil Jones also said that they could only accept our £20k bid; that it was not legal to negotiate once the tender sum was submitted. The council put a gun to our head - go with the £20k with the surf school next to us, or withdraw our tender! please just take a few moments to reread that last bit. This is the council who gave us no notice of a retender process until 14 days prior to the tender date submission (when the season had already started and after 18 years good service); got the dates wrong in the adverts in the paper; refused to return my calls and answer questions that were fundamental to our bid (specifically Jolyon Sharpe); failed to place the tender on their own tendering website; and put the closing date of the tender on a bank holiday. Where's this document that says it's okay to do this but suddenly we get all correct and proper when it comes to the actual tender application. It's my conclusion that a deal was struck with the new school a while ago. I believe that now. Why has this been rushed through in 14 days? Why no consultation? Knowing the opposition why not put the process on hold and have a rethink? And if it's about money, why is this the only beach where this happens? Why are there no trading spots in Newquay, in Bude, all around Cornwall. Why just Polzeath? And maybe if they managed the car parks better and lined up the cars like they used to rather than putting fines on them, they'd raise a bit more cash too. There is no support for a third surf school, a second in the car park, none. I don't know a single person in the village who isn't up in arms about it. And your letters, of which there were hundreds have stated very eloquently what you think in your opposition. Your opinion is worthless.
So where are we? I don't know to be honest. We feel that things are going on behind closed doors that we have no control over. None of it makes any sense. What we do know, is that we can't afford to pay £20k a year. We know that. It's been hard enough the past couple of years without the impact on our business of another surf school. And I'm not sure that we have any option but to withdraw our tender. Of course, we don't want to. Yes we could park 20 yards away and pay £19,700 less by buying a parking ticket like every other surf school in the country. We could trade from our shop and office, but still operate. That fails to address the safety issues of beach and car park though. Maybe we don't want to operate on a beach so out of control and lacking in management.
We actually don't know what to do. I'm a half glass full man, always have been.... but hearts are heavy in the Craskie camp right now. Feels like we've been stitched up by an incompetent council department. If they need to raise money, why not let a few of the officers go - that's my view. The tender process was an absolute shambles that would not have been tolerated in the private sector. But the officers shelter behind each other and take refuge in the fact that if they don't pick up the phone and answer difficult questions, everything will be okay and it'll all go away. We realise now that the meeting was a complete waste of time, the decision had been made before we even entered the room. What a complete waste of time. Shambles, complete shambles.
We've been asked by the council to let them know today what our decision is. So I guess if you want to express your views on any of the issues, you have today to do it, and we'd be grateful if you would to be honest. If you've written before, rather than the generic reply, you might like to go back to ask them to respond to your issues, directly. Probably won't do any good, but probably wouldn't do any harm either. Sorry to be a bit down beat... can't see the funny side right now. Can't quite believe any of it.
From myself, Janey and the Surf's Up! team - thanks so much for your support.
The details of the three muskateers are as follows: 

David Attwell -  01208 262868 / 0778 559 1200
Phil Jones - 01579 324106 / 07771 980166
Jolyon Sharpe - 01208 262 836 / 07974 916505