A piece of cheap political point-scoring by a Lib-Dem Councillor, Simon Galton (representing Thurnby & Houghton) has cost Harborough tax-payers around £17,000.
The issue relates to the Harborough Innovation Centre (HIC), a smart new office complex north of the town, on the Leicester Road. It was funded by Harborough Council, along with Leicester County Council and the EU — so it has that nice circle of yellow stars on its signage. It is managed by Oxford Innovation on behalf of Harborough Council.
Opened only around a year ago, with the objective of supporting start-up companies, it is less than 50% let, and last year it lost £118,000. The Leics Mercury reports that four tenants have recently left, and seems to suggest they may have been unhappy. I was one of the four, and I can say that I was not at all unhappy. It’s a fine office, staff at the Centre were unfailingly helpful, and I had no complaints.
Early this year I was looking for a new office in Harborough, and naturally looked at the HIC. Although impressed, I finally settled for an office in the town centre. But HIC were rightly keen to fill empty offices, so they offered me a new, lower rent if I would change my mind and go to HIC. So I did. I planned to stay at least until the next euro-election in June 2014, and I would have been paying around £17,000 in rent over the two years.
But this wasn’t good enough for Councillor Galton. He saw his chance to take a pop at a UKIP politician, so he demanded the rental contract be terminated, on the grounds that a politician was not a start-up business (though politics is a serious business for most of us, if not for the Lib-Dems). He also wrote in mock outrage that a project part-funded by the EU should not benefit an “anti-European” (his phrase, not mine).
Technically, he had a point. I didn’t quite match HIC’s target tenant profile. But on the other hand, they were losing money on empty offices, and keen to generate revenue for the town. Logic and common sense argued for me to stay, but HIC’s management company Oxford Innovation were embarrassed by the technical breach of the rules, and (very shame-faced) asked if I could move on. I have to say that they did everything they could to limit the damage and to treat me fairly, and I respect them for that.
So, am I worried? No. I’ve simply reverted to my first choice in the town centre, a delightful (and somewhat larger) upstairs office in the picturesque pedestrian precinct of Manor Walk. It’s above a very agreeable café offering good coffee at all times of day. The rent is comparable, the location ideal.
The only losers here are tax-payers of Market Harborough (and as I live in the district, that includes me). Councillor Galton has shown a petty spirit and a wholesale disregard for the interests of his constituents. I’m sure the voters of Thurnby and Houghton will bear this in mind if he ever stands for re-election.
Roger Helmer MEP
21 Manor Walk,
The Office can be contacted on telephone number 07896 918513