County council pays out £20,000pa on empty building in Brussels

Essex County Council has been paying out around £20,000 each year for an office in Brussels it does not even occupy.

The cost of the redundancies to ECC after the decision to close the office in light of the Brexit referendum amounted to around £91,000.

But the office, which closed in July 2019, is still being paid for under a nine year lease, which has been running from December 2015 at around £20,000 a year.

It was meant to expire in November 2024, but terms have been agreed with another occupier which will take over at the end of October.

This office was also the former European base of the East of England LGA and until it closed in July 2019, an income stream from the LGA helped with costs.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “ECC occupies its current office in Brussels under a nine year lease which runs from December 1, 2015 to November 30, 2024. ECC is contracted to pay rent and outgoings during this period.

“The function of the office effectively ceased from July 2019 when the staff were made redundant as a result of the Brexit referendum outcome.

“The ECC estates team has been working with the landlord to find an alternative occupier for the accommodation and terms have now been agreed. ECC’s lease will now end on October 31, 2020 rather than 2024 as per the contract.”

The decision at the beginning of 2019 by the East of England LGA to withdraw £159,000 that currently goes towards funding the East of England European Partnership office in Brussels was described at the time as a short-termist and a backwards step.

Warren Kenny, GMB regional secretary, said at the time: “GMB London Region has signed this letter of support calling on the EELGA to keep open their European Partnership Office in Brussels as, although we can appreciate the huge financial pressures on local governments, we also fear this would be a short-termist and backwards step.

“Europe operates on a regional basis and we need to be in the best position to secure high quality jobs, through joint projects and additional funding.

“It would be a wasted opportunity to throw away such a valuable network, as well as specialist knowledge, which have translated into real term benefits for the region, by a premature decision to close the office.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter