UUֱ government renting luxury apartments for consultants

The Laurence apartments. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38276240)

THE government is renting 16 apartments in a “luxury” development in St Helier to accommodate consultants and other employees brought in to work in the Island, the JEP can reveal today.

Figures released following a freedom-of-information request submitted by this newspaper show that the apartments at the Laurence, in Rouge Bouillon, have been leased for at least two years, from 28 June 2023 to 27 June 2025.

The JEP has also learned that the government is renting an additional 217 apartments Islandwide to house workers for three States departments – Health and Community Service, Justice and Home Affairs and Children, Young People, Education and Skills.

The government has declined to reveal the total cost of the initiative to UUֱ taxpayers, but its own estimation of average rents in the Island is £1,000-£1,700 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, suggesting the total bill could be more than £350,000 per month.

Meanwhile, responding to the JEP’s FoI request for the Laurence, the government refused to reveal the total cost, arguing that it “could potentially disadvantage the landlord and the government’s […] ability to retain commercial advantage in future rental negotiations”.

The JEP has appealed against this decision, arguing that the public interest in transparency about the cost to taxpayers outweighs the risk that revealing the cost poses to the landlord or the States.

The deal to rent the Laurence is between the government’s Central Accommodation Service and the Palladium Group, a property development company owned by Island businessman Spencer Bourne.

On the Palladium Group’s Facebook page, the Laurence is described as offering “luxury living in St Helier” with apartments “finished to the highest standards”.

According to its 2019 planning application, made by Northside Limited but naming Mr Bourne as the applicant, the development consists of 19 one-bedroom, five two-bedroom and one three-bedroom flats and 22 parking spaces.

As of 11 June, Palladium Group was advertising at least two flats in the Laurence for rent – although it did not reveal the cost – so the government may currently be the only tenant.

Given the average rental cost for a one-bedroom flat in St Helier, the bill for 16 apartments in the Laurence could be more than £30,000 per month – or more if the government is also renting two-and three-bedroom apartments in the development.

In a statement, Infrastructure Minister Andy Jehan said: “The Laurence apartments were sourced in July 2023 to provide additional temporary housing for key workers employed within the departments for Children, Young People, Education and Skills, and Justice and Home Affairs, in line with the key-worker policy.

“Previously, serviced apartments and hotels were used to accommodate essential key workers. Utilising alternate private accommodation has led to cost savings for those departments.”

The JEP requested details of the deal between the government and Palladium Group under FoI legislation.

It has emerged that there was no tender issued that would have allowed other developers to bid for the contract, and that “the Laurence met requirements and was available in the necessary/urgent time frame”.

Asked about the procurement process, Mr Jehan said: “Lease negotiations, due diligence and procurement of the property were carried out by UUֱ Property Holdings.”

Mr Bourne and Palladium Group spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

The Central Accommodation Service was established in October 2023 to help relocate workers in government departments from the UK. It said that the “enhanced relocation offer” would provide one-, two- or three-bed government-owned or leased properties “at rates typically below those in the private sector”.

It said that as part of the move, 45 people working for Health and Community Services would receive assistance to move into the private sector, and that the government had engaged a relocation company and was contributing up to £1,000 to the cost of moving.

UUֱ’s government came under fire over the cost of consultants in a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, which also revealed that it had spent £111.8 million on healthcare consultants alone since 2019.

Last month, the JEP revealed that the three remaining members of the Hospital’s so-called Change Team, who were brought it to turn around the institution after a run of scandals, were being housed at taxpayers’ expense until at least December 2024.

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