Consultant’s controversial call

FORMING a new entity to own and develop Willow Court was the controversial recommendation of management consultant Malcolm MacDonald’s interim report to the Derwent Valley Council last week. Addressing a public gathering of councillors, committee members and the public last Thursday night, Mr MacDonald said it was not normal for him to delve into the political aspects of his consultancies, but Willow Court was a unique case.

Now two-thirds of the way through his three-month consultancy for the council, Mr MacDonald’s proposed business strategy for the Willow Court historic site was based on the premise that owning and developing Willow Court was not “core business” for the council. He suggested:

  • Transferring Willow Court to a new entity at arms-length from the council
  • The entity could be a trust or company limited by guarantee, with a board of management and a project manager
  • The entity would not be the same as the council’s former company Derwent Valley Investments
  • The proposal might need ministerial approval
  • The entity would need a skills-based board of five to eight paid members including representatives of the council, Willow Court Special Committee and the community, with expertise in finance, grants, project management and heritage issues
  • That the council’s existing Willow Court funds be transferred to the new entity
  • That the proceeds of any sale of the Willow Court oval precinct be transferred to the new entity
  • That the State Government be asked to assist the new entity.

Mr MacDonald said he had held regular meetings council general manager Stephen Mackey and also with the Willow Court and Barracks Special Committee. He believed Willow Court was an asset, not a liability, and it was a worthy asset in the context of the history of this region, the state, nation and the world. “This asset has the potential to do some wonderful things for the prosperity of the Derwent Valley,” Mr MacDonald said.

“This plan is what we have been discussing over the last few months,” Willow Court Special Committee secretary Wayne Shoobridge said. “You have hit it on the head and it must go this way or we will be in the same place or worse in 10 years,” Mr Shoobridge said. He asked that each councillor present give an indication of their thinking on the matter.

Councillor James Graham said government spokesmen had already raised the issue of an entity similar to the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, if not that organisation itself, running Willow Court.

Willow Court committee member Denise Rushworth said people would want to see something being done with Willow Court before any new entity took control, otherwise it risked being tarred with the same brush as earlier failed management structures.

Cr Judy Bromfield said she would need to see Mr MacDonald’s completed report before offering any comment on it. But she did venture the opinion that with a Federal Election due, “Dick Adams must get up and get some money for this electorate.”

Cr Scott Shaw said he supported Mr MacDonald’s proposal. Cr Narelle Molan-Hill said Mr MacDonald’s proposals seemed to be a positive step, but she too would like to see the full report before commenting.

Cr Damian Bester said he would not offer a definitive statement on Mr MacDonald’s proposals as he had not had time to properly consider them. “This is the first I have heard of these proposals,” Cr Bester said. “I have not been involved in the discussions that have been referred to, and I have not seen any minutes of the Willow Court Special Committee.”

Committee secretary Wayne Shoobridge took umbrage at Cr Bester’s remarks and said minutes of meetings had been provided to the general manager’s office. He said the committee was also hearing Mr MacDonald’s plan for the first time.

Cr Bester said his comments were a simple statement of fact, not an attack on the committee or the consultant. He reminded the meeting that both the committee and the consultancy had been established at his own suggestion, endorsed by the council. Cr Bromfield said she had not seen any minutes of meetings and she asked Cr Barry Lathey, as council representative on the committee, to look into the problem.

Cr Lathey said it had been his privilege to represent the council on the working party (now formalised as the Willow Court and Barracks Special Committee) and had witnessed the commitment and passion of the members. His question for Mr MacDonald was what might happen to any profits being generated by Willow Court in 20 years time, if the site had been handed to a new entity. Mr MacDonald said he had not considered the question of future profits at this stage, but his initial thoughts were that all profits would be needed for ongoing works at the historic site.

Mayor Martyn Evans thanked Mr MacDonald for his work to date and said he was pleased to be part of it.


  1. For the benefit of those who did not know about the meeting of the working group I will give you my own interpretation/take of the proposed draft plans for Willow Court Barracks.

    I was there by pubic invitation and have no association with any group except being a ratepayer.

    A new separate business entity is proposed. For sake of argument let me take a liberty and give it a working title of VV MkII. This new business entity will be set up at arm’s length to the Council. In other words it can do its own bidding. It will have a new project manager with up to 8 full time well paid business executive managers.

    All Willow Court buildings assets will be transferred into its ownership and all money that is currently earmarked for the Willow Court project will be transferred as seed funding. Any future money raised from the sale of the Oval will go in to their funds.

    I heard no other business plans presented at the meeting apart from this basic business organisational structure proposal that would normally fill about three pages of any decent business plan document.

    Let me look into my own crystal ball and gaze into a hypothetical future. Sounded on previous local experiences from Willow Court.

    After a month and half of honeymooning and luncheons to meet and greet the new smiling suits, they start the work in earnest. After three months and reading for the third time the 422 page reports and multiple meetings later, they suddenly realise that there still are no business plans and there are no solid ideas what or how to make the Willow Court barracks work commercially.

    In 6 months a couple staff members have jumped ship due to frustration and no direction. The money is running out quickly as no other funds are there to prop them up. Planning permissions are held up due to heritage listing complications. Promised grants do not materialise. Salaries and external consultants are gobbling up the money fast.

    The business entity finally folds in 12 months as it has run out of money and the buildings are placed into liquidation. The municipality has lost all of its money, and almost all of the Willow Court assets.

    The only people smiling are at the council as they have had the problem taken off their hands and they have not been brought into account for the major disaster. They were able to deflect the radar off just in time. They have run out of other options of forming committees and this proposal was a good way to get the project away from their hands.

    Now lets get back to real time, maybe instead of spending any more money on consultants telling us what we already know, and telling us what has not happened and offering high risk operational proposals, it is time a close look at who took the decision to take this municipality into this project in the first place and still on it after 11 years working on the project.

    What has been accomplished and who is accountable and responsible for this multi million dollar disaster in our town? Just add the costs, the loss of the millions given to the council on the sale to Mrs Adams, the real cost of recovery of the buildings to where they were before they were sold to the DVI and the damage that has taken place due to lack of reasonable security of the assets. If we add this all up we will looking at least around a $10 million real cost loss.

    The real problem is that no one has any real expertise or business ideas on what to do and how to do it and the council simply keeps spending huge money in the hope someone will bail them out.

    As Gordon Fyfe rightly asked way back in 2003 when the site was sold to Mrs Adams – WHERE ARE THE PLANS? Where was the public consultation process that was promised for all council properties? Where were the tourism plans that were promoted in the Gazette 13th August 2003 by Mayor Cracknell?

  2. ^^

    i personally have met with Malcolm several times and can tell you that he does know what he is talking about. He is putting the business plan together for the benefit of willow court and i believe his finally report will be the best for the site.

    if your such an expert about the site and business why didn't you join the willow court committee?

    That's right because it's easier to sit behind a monitor and say the way things should be done.

    the only way forward with the site is to look forward, digging around in the past will achieve nothing and only create more confusion and it will see the site completely gone.

    i can personally say that i'm doing something for the site, what are you doing?

  3. the comments by the first writer must have been asleep at the workshop. This meeting was and always was supposed to be a directional meeting where work done so far was tabled to see if the councillors concerred with the direction which Mr Macdonald was progressing. At no time was it suggested that a BUSINESS PLAN would be tabled at this meeting. It WILL BE TABLED at a COUNCIL MEETING after a preliminary draft given to the working Group. The person who is speaking the same old thing may have been invited on a false pretence and that in it self is shameful Mr Bester. Your ONLY agenda in all this is that you want to become The NEXT MAYOR

  4. All comments received on this topic have been published, with the exception of one expletive-ridden remark. Correspondents will find that newspapers have a far less liberal policy than this site. You certainly won't get an unsigned letter in the Mercury or Gazette, Mr or Ms Anonymous.

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