Monday, 18 June 2018

Borders recycling rate well below 2011 level

by DOUG COLLIE

The performance of Scottish Borders Council in recycling the region's household rubbish is so unimpressive that the rate in 2017 was a full six percentage points below the figure recorded as long ago as 2011 while almost 60% of all garbage collected went to landfill.

Last year's recycling figure of 39.8 per cent which was published this week, was way below the council's 46.3 per cent recorded in 2011 and lagging behind the national average of 45.2 per cent in 2016.

At the end of May the Scottish Environment Protection Agency announced that recycling levels for all forms of waste in Scotland had exceeded 60 per cent for the first time in 2017. Last year's data for all 32 Scottish local authorities is expected to be published by SEPA in September.

But a report to SBC's Executive reveals only a marginal increase in local recycling rates between 2016 (39.0%) and 2017 (39.8%). Before that Borders recycling had been travelling in a downward direction while most of the rest of the country were improving their ability to divert waste from landfill.

As reported previously, the suspension of garden waste collections several years ago had a seriously detrimental impact on the council's recycling rates. But despite vociferous protests from service users and some councillors there has been no reprieve for the axed green bins.

Meanwhile the future location for the treatment of residual waste - approximately 30,000 tonnes of it per year - remains undecided.

The Easter Langlee landfill site which produces large volumes of methane gas each year, is scheduled for closure in mid 2019. A waste transfer station is currently being developed at the Galashiels site from where the rubbish will be taken by road to its final destination.

A long awaited waste management strategy has yet to be finalised by a group of councillors and officers who first met in 2015 following the collapse of the council's disastrous contract with New Earth Solutions Group.

One of the priorities for the local authority will be to invite bids for the contract to haul and treat the waste previously bound for landfill. But critics claim such an arrangement is not environmentally friendly given the additional polluting lorry movements as the loads of refuse are taken out of the Borders.

Once the alternative system is up and running the remainder of the Easter Langlee site will be capped and the site is to be grassed over.

It looks as though the Borders will continue to be affected financially and environmentally for many years to come by the failure of SBC to develop and deliver its very own waste treatment facility. That unproductive venture has already cost local taxpayers the thick end of 2.5 million pounds.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

"Scotland's Stradivari" a stranger in his own birthplace


MATTHEW HARDIE – THE GENIUS AIRBRUSHED FROM JEDBURGH’S HISTORY

He may have produced some of the world's finest violins despite battling alcoholism for much of his life. But Matthew Hardie, dubbed "Scotland's Stradivari" doesn't rate a mention in official or unofficial versions of the history of Jedburgh, the town of his birth.

While James Hutton (geologist), Mary Somerville (scientist) and David Brewster (physicist) have been rightfully inducted into the town's virtual Hall of Fame alongside Roy Laidlaw and Gary Armstrong, Hardie's link to the royal burgh appears to have been virtually overlooked.

Perhaps it is time to raise the profile of this master craftsman despite his chaotic lifestyle which had him banged up in a debtor's prison before his death in an Edinburgh poorhouse and burial in a pauper's grave in Greyfriars kirkyard.

These days Matthew Hardie's musical instruments command premium prices around the globe. At present, on E-bay you'll find one of his 1815 violins advertised by an American vendor with a price tag of $75,000 or 55.900 pounds. A Hardie-made cello sold for 28,800 pounds in 2006.

His son Thomas who inherited his father's skills along with his liking for strong drink was no slouch when it came to instrument making, although the critics did not always afford him rave reviews.

Just listen to this put down by William Meredith Morris, author of the 1920 publication 'British Violin Makers - a Biographical Dictionary': "As a matter of fact the tone of Thomas Hardie's instruments is almost always poor and often positively bad".

Mr Morris's forthright criticisms seem to have been well wide of the mark for The Upton Bass String Instrument Company, of Connecticut, USA, currently offers for sale a Thomas Hardie 1825 double bass, "a long time denizen of the Boston Symphony Orchestra"with an asking price of $95,000 (73,000 pounds). Not bad for a 'poor toned' member of the strings section!

Matthew Hardie (1754-1826) was the son of Jedburgh clock maker Stephen Hardie. The Register of Baptisms for Jedburgh Parish shows Matthew was christened on November 27th 1754.

Young Hardie trained as a joiner. But in 1778 together with his brother Henry he entered military service, enlisting in the South Fencible Regiment [SFR] commanded by the Duke of Buccleuch. The Buccleuch family was to come to his rescue as his patrons more than 20 years later.

He was discharged from the SFR in 1782. From 1788 on Matthew is mentioned in several Edinburgh directories, described as a musical instrument maker working from a number of different addresses.

Most of Hardie's work appears to have been for the Edinburgh Musical Society. But when the society closed in 1798 it heralded the beginning of his downward spiral into financial chaos and grinding poverty. He could no longer always afford the premium quality cuts of wood required to manufacture top class violins even though benefactors tried to help him maintain his high standards.

Matthew certainly had confidence in his own ability, claiming that his violins were 'inferior to none of the London made ones'.But by now he faced competition from a growing volume of imported instruments of inferior quality which were helping to meet the burgeoning demand for violins in Scotland.

In May 1800, with Hardie's fortunes close to rock bottom, the text of a poster reproduced on the informative Patrick's People website tells us:

'Subscription Concert and Ball For the Benefit of Matthew Hardie and his family who have been honoured with the patronage of Her Grace the Duchess of Buccleuch, Hon. Lady Charlotte Campbell Hon.Mrs Dundas of Arniston besides several other Ladies and Gentlemen of distinction To be held in Bernard's Room Thistle Street on Tuesday the 9th May curt at eight o'clock in the evening Leader of the Band Mr Bird, Piano Forte Mr Clark......Tickets (Three Shillings each) to be had at Mr Hardie back of Fountain Well, at all the Music Shops, and at the Door of the Rooms.'

Matthew's fall from grace was complete, but at least he had the support of the Buccleuchs.

There was to be a repeat performance the following year.

This time the advertisements (again reproduced at www.patrickspeople.scot) declared: 'Ball-under the Patronage of the Right Hon. the Earl & Countess of Dalkeith and the Officers of the 4th Regiment N B M will be held on Tuesday the 24th Feb. 1801 in Bernard's Rooms, Thistle Street for the benefit of Matthew Hardie Violin Maker. Since the conclusion of the American War, when the South Fencibles were discharged in which corps M. H. had the honour of serving, he has applied himself to making Violins etc. but on account of his numerous family, has never been able to acquire a sufficient stock to carry on trade to advantage, Therefore the Right Hon. the Earl and Countess of Dalkeith, with the Officers of the Regiment commanded by his Lordship have generously agreed to patronise him.'

Despite these interventions by the nobility Hardie seemed unable to regain and hold on to financial stability. For example, he was a member of the Edinburgh Musical Fund, but apparently could not keep up his subscriptions, and when he was unable to pay off arrears dating back to 1817 his name was, after several warnings, removed from the membership list in April 1825.

The end of Hardie's tortured life came a year later. The following entry is from the Greyfriars Burial Register: 'Matthew Hardie Violin Maker died 30th August 1826 C W H (Charity Workhouse) buried in Greyfriars on 31st.' He was 71 years of age.

So how good was Hardie and did he merit the Scottish Stradivari title?

Well, according to William Honeyman, author of Scottish Violin Makers Past and Present, written in 1910: "It is evident that the graceful lines of his violins and the perfect contour of his scrolls have come intuitively from the man's brain more than from his patterns. ... in every one of his violins there is apparent in every line that subtle something which no one can define.


"It is the same with the tone. The trained ear at once notes that it is not a commonplace tone, though it sometimes takes a firm hand to show its real grandeur."

Hardie's customers, among them members of Edinburgh's elite, were paying as much as six guineas for one of his sought after instruments in the early 1800's. That's the equivalent of six hundred pounds in today's monetary values.

And his reputation and popularity as a craftsman were such that he had his portrait painted by the noted Scottish artist Sir William Allan in about 1822.

The picture has been in the ownership of the National Galleries of Scotland since 1960. But perhaps fittingly, given Matthew's unconventional lifestyle, the oil on panel is currently 'in storage' rather than gracing some gallery wall. The NGS website wrongly claims Hardie to have been born in Edinburgh in 1755.

And what became of Thomas Hardie (1803-1856)?

He was, like his father, a hard-living individual whose alcoholism inhibited his inherited talents. Experts - apart from William Meredith Morris - say his instruments possess excellent sound quality and are well-made though the craftsmanship is less precise than that displayed by Hardie senior.

Like his father he had problems in maintaining a steady existence, and eventually died after falling down some stairs near his final residence at Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh, aged just 52. 

A modest plaque tells its readers: "BURIED IN THIS KIRKYARD MATTHEW HARDIE (1755-1826) THE SCOTTISH STRADIVARI AND HIS SON THOMAS (1804-1858) MASTER VIOLIN MAKERS OF EDINBURGH". The dates may be wrong, but at least the Hardies' last resting place is marked in some way.



















Saturday, 9 June 2018

Letter from the Scottish Borders

THE CUT OUR COUNCIL IS'NT MAKING

Well, it hasn't taken the new administration at Newtown St Boswells long to get our backs up. They've already shown an ability to be even more annoying than their predecessors - some achievement, I hear fellow locals cry!

Many of us thought the removal of our kerbside garden waste collections several years ago ranked as the silliest cut to save money. It resulted in pensioners taking sacks of lawn clippings to their nearest recycling centre by taxi. It may also have sparked an epidemic of fly tipping in our beautiful countryside.

Thousands of green bins lie unused in gardens from Eyemouth to Peebles while we wait on the edge of our seats for a review of the council's waste management strategy. Meanwhile regular trips to the 'cowp' remain the order of the day.

The future of refuse collection and disposal has been "undecided" since 2015 when the previous administration had to abandon a waste management contract after losing close to two and a half million pounds on a failed venture with an insolvent contractor.

But I digress. The new target for our wrath is the ground breaking policy rubber stamped several months ago and revelling in the title: CHANGES TO GRASS CUTTING AND BEDDING PLANT PROVISION.

It slipped through virtually unnoticed, but is already proving to be a game changer. The immediate result has been the creation of scores of unsightly, unkempt green spaces in our towns and villages with grass allowed to grow a foot high before it is mowed.

The review of ground maintenance follows similar cost cutting exercises affecting all of our basic local government services down the years. It is a wonder another arms length company hasn't been set up to take on the 635 hectares of green space and 3,250 individual plots maintained by the council. Such a business could sit alongside those already functioning in other spheres including home care and libraries.

Information posted on the SBC website predicted: "As part of the Neighbourhood Services review, some parks and open spaces, grass verges and some amenity grass areas, including steeply sloping ground will look different as we change our grass cutting service across the Borders. The changes are required to ensure financial sustainability for the service as well as improving environmental sustainability".

The new policy did warn us: "GRASS CUTTING:There will also be a change of approach to general amenity grass areas (including cemeteries) so grass that was previously cut once every ten working days is cut approximately every 20 working days. This method is widely used throughout the UK and Scotland as an appropriate, sustainable and efficient method of maintaining green space"

Just try telling that to the many who are already writing angry letters of protest to local papers or have urged their local councillor to reverse the damaging measure before untold damage is done to our economy and our unique landscape. A host of community council chairmen and women are also on the case.

We could call it the unkindest uncut of all. But with tens of thousands of visitors from the rest of the UK and from overseas about to descend on us there is little appetite for humour. We mustn't allow the grass to grow under our feet!

A friend who spent time searching for his vertically challenged pooch [dachshund] in the Scottish Borders Council sponsored undergrowth wondered which firm of consultants had come up with the concept of the 20-day cutting cycle. Or did our elected members simply spawn the plain daft idea on their own?

For those who haven't read the small print, there's a second chapter of the policy due to kick in early in 2019. This could allow the council to abdicate responsibility for providing attractive floral displays even in the main tourist locations.

Beneath the heading BEDDING PLANT PROVISION we are informed: "The new provision will take effect in spring 2019, allowing us time to redesign areas and liaise with community groups. The provision will be either: introduce permanent rather than seasonal displays; grass over areas; support communities who wish to undertake bedding plant maintenance as part of their 'In Bloom' activities".

So, faced with a tidal wave of protest from their constituents, and the threat of inflicting untold damage on cash-strapped Borders businesses will those who are supposed to represent us have the courage to admit their folly and impose more cuts in this case? It would certainly be remarkable if an entire council administration admitted it was wrong.







Thursday, 7 June 2018

Court orders requested against Borders council's "funders"

EXCLUSIVE by DOUGLAS SHEPHERD

Directors of the bankrupt offshore investment fund which was lined up by Scottish Borders Council to bankroll a £23 million waste treatment plant are the subject of applications to the Isle of Man courts after refusing to be interviewed by liquidators probing their company's spectacular failure.

Now it is hoped the four men who presided over the collapse of Premier New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] Ltd. (NERR) will be quizzed under oath as a lengthy investigation seeks to establish what happened to tens of millions of pounds of cash owed to creditors and investors.

Councillors in the Borders handed a £80 million contract to Dorset-based New Earth Solutions Group (NESG) in 2011 in a bid to resolve problems linked to the disposal and treatment of the region's household rubbish.

But the deal was rendered worthless in 2015 after NESG could not deliver the technology to power the new waste plant while funding partners NERR could not come up with the money to pay for the project.

There seems little doubt that the council's four year involvement with NESG and NERR gave both of those businesses credibility neither of them warranted, and SBC was left with a £2.4 million loss which the local authority spent on expensive consultants and lawyers for no return.

Some 3,250 investors worldwide are understood to have placed a total of $292 million in NERR which was controlled and managed by Premier Group Isle of Man, now also totally insolvent like NESG and NERR. But over a number of years well over £20 million was taken out of the fund in management fees and charges for promoting and marketing NERR.

The latest twist in the complicated mystery has emerged in a progress report to creditors by NERR liquidators Alexander Adam and David Craine, of Deloitte's Isle of Man branch. They are currently wading through an estimated 200,000 documents linked to the disaster.

Their report says:"As you are aware, the Company’s assets were principally investments by way of equity and unsecured loans in three companies, which were located in the United Kingdom: 1. New Earth Solutions Group Limited (“NESGL”) 2. New Earth Solutions Facilities Management Limited (“NESFM”) 3. New Earth Energy Facilities Management Limited (“NEEFM”) (together the “UK Trading Companies”)

"As set out previously, the value of those investments at the date of winding up was close to nil. The role of the Joint Liquidators is therefore principally to: investigate the reasons for the failure of NERR; determine whether liability for the failure can be attributed to one or more parties; working alongside our legal advisers, establish whether there is any legal recourse against one or more of those parties which could result in a recovery to the Company’s estate; and  to the extent that that those third parties are expected to have the resources to meet any successful claim, seek to recover value from them."

 Following a review of the Company’s records together with information provided by various third parties, the liquidators attempted to conduct formal fact-finding interviews with the Company’s directors.

"The reason for this is that the directors were the individuals with day to day responsibility for the management of the Company and therefore the appropriate people to clarify the Joint Liquidators understanding of the Company’s affairs and dealings and provide additional information as appropriate.

"Two of the four directors attended for an initial interview. However, all four have, through their legal advisers, informed the Joint Liquidators that they are now unwilling to be orally interviewed in relation to this matter and have indicated that they will only provide written answers to any questions put to them. In the opinion of the Joint Liquidators, attempting to clarify the affairs and dealings of the Company over a period of several years through written correspondence is both impractical and inefficient."

The report reveals that an application has therefore been made to Court, pursuant to the provisions of the Isle of Man Companies Act 1931, for those directors who have yet to be interviewed, to be examined in Court on oath. Assuming that the application is successful, Mr Adam and Mr Craine anticipate conducting the examinations during the course of the next few months, depending on the availability of Court time.

It is explained in the report that investigations are focusing on the matters that resulted in a direct loss to the Company. That is, the value of investments made in the ultimately insolvent UK trading companies and the fees paid by the Company to the various service providers.

"Our initial investigations into the fees charged by one third party service provider highlighted concerns around the basis for such payments.
 
"A letter of claim for restitution or damages to be paid by that entity has been issued by the Joint Liquidators. That entity has acknowledged receipt of the letter of claim and a substantive response is awaited. Further updates on this matter will be provided in due course as appropriate."
 

And the report concludes: "Our review of the documentation and records of the Company remain ongoing as we, in conjunction with our legal advisors, continue to refine our initial analysis of the data to support any potential third party claims. However, as previously noted in our updates, we are limited in what information we can share with you on potential causes of action so that we do not prejudice any potential claims. 

"We remain confident that our investigations will result in further claims being identified which, if successfully pursued, would result in recoveries being made for the benefit of creditors and shareholders in due course."

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Council contractors wanted to "double their price"

EXCLUSIVE by EWAN LAMB

Officials at Scottish Borders Council extended a valuable £300,000-a-year waste recycling contract under delegated powers without inviting competitive tenders even though the existing suppliers demanded a near doubling of their prices at one point during discussions.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby has already reported on the "highly unusual" decision by SBC that their long-standing contract for dealing with 10,500 tonnes of so-called dry mixed recyclates (blue bin rubbish) would continue to be in the hands of J & B Recycling Ltd, of Hartlepool without rival firms having the opportunity to bid because of "special circumstances".

Since 2005 that company which later became sub-contractors to New Earth Solutions - the now dissolved firm chosen by councillors to solve the Borders' waste treatment problems - has handled collections of domestic recyclable rubbish which are hauled 110 miles by road to the J & B Tees-side facility.

One of two so-called transparency notices published by SBC set out to explain why other firms had been denied the chance to bid for the work when J & B's contract expired in March 2017. The notice claimed: "Scottish Borders Council is in the process of reviewing future requirements for all Waste Management Services. During this period the highest priority for the Council is existing service delivery.

"Therefore until the new Waste Management Plan is fully implemented and to avoid a disproportionate impact on current waste operations it is necessary that existing arrangements relating to service provision continue. A detailed options appraisal has been conducted which confirms that this approach is the most appropriate solution delivering best value while meeting the necessary requirements of the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015."

Then a second notice gave this reason for the deviation from normal procurement procedures: "Extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority".

Additional details of what led up to the contract extension have now emerged in a heavily redacted (censored) version of an internal council briefing note. The 21-page document was released following a Freedom of Information request, but unfortunately virtually every figure in the report has been hidden from view.

The note records that a firm of consultants had been called in to carry out an appraisal of options available once the contract came to an end.

"The Options Appraisal concluded that extension of the current contract with J&B Recycling Ltd was most likely to achieve the Council’s short-term procurement objectives and achieve the lowest price given the current market conditions. The negotiation with J&B regarding the contract extension progressed well until January 2017 when J&B changed position and requested a significant price increase i.e [redacted figure]."

The Council requested J&B reconsider their position and revisited the other viable options available: J&B subsequently proposed two alternative options with increased risk share but at significantly reduced rates.

 A review of the pros and cons of each of the options by officials concluded that J&B’s option one (costs redacted) represented the best way forward for the following key reasons:
1. The price is competitive 2. The Council is exposed to additional risk compared to the current contract; however break clauses built into the contract provide an element of protection. 3. J&B have a proven track record of managing the Council’s refuse since 2005. 4. The public will see no changes to the service which is not the case if the Council was to enter into a contract with [redaction]. 5. It is likely to present the quickest way of putting a contract in place and minimises the costs the Council would be exposed to during an interim arrangement.

On the other hand the Briefing Note warns: "The main risks of entering into the contract are: 1. The Council is exposed to additional risks and price fluctuations compared to the current contract. 2. The Council may receive a challenge during the 10 day standstill process. If this occurs it will need to go out through a full procurement exercise. This is likely to result in additional cost whilst the procurement project is undertaken."

More detailed background to the discussions between SBC and J & B shows how the contractors came to request a sizeable price increase.

 On 19th January 2017 J&B’s Commercial Manager confirmed that they had taken the proposal to their Board and they had indicated that terms and price did not deliver the required return on investment.

"The main justifications were as follows: J&B’s paper contract was due to expire and it was unlikely they would be able to negotiate a fixed price at the level of their current arrangement. The paper contract was likely to require card to be extracted and this would need significant additional investment into their plant. Their haulier had recently lost a back haul contract and J&B were expecting a price increase.

"An emergency meeting was arranged with J&B’s Managing Director and Commercial Manager on 23rd January 2017. At this meeting J&B outlined that they required [redacted figure] if they were to continue to provide the contract on similar terms as had been discussed. 

"It was now clear that the extension of the current contract with J&B may no longer represent the best option. The Council outlined to J&B that they were unable to enter into a contract at [redacted figure] nearly double the current price, and asked them to rethink their proposal."

However, as reported, the range of possible alternative solutions were assessed, then discarded.

The Briefing Note concludes: "The Council has been put in a difficult position as a result of J&B changing their position and the fact that the current contract expires at the end of March 2017. Following a review of the viable options available to the Council, at the 1st March 2017, the following options are considered to represent best value in terms of price: 1. New contract with J&B 2. Partner with [redacted] Council."




Wednesday, 30 May 2018

"Dud" treatment plant stays shut till at least 2020

EXCLUSIVE - by DOUG COLLIE

The 'flagship' waste treatment facility near Bristol which convinced Scottish Borders councillors they were onto a winner after an expensive visit to the plant in 2014 will remain out of commission until at least 2020 having been completely closed down two years ago because of insurmountable technological issues.

No fewer than sixteen elected members and senior officers from Scottish Borders Council made the 700-mile round trip to New Earth Solutions Group's so-called cutting edge Avonmouth centre which was supposed to convert up to 120,000 tonnes of household refuse each year into electricity via advanced thermal conversion.

A much delayed smaller version using the same processes - it was to cost £23 million - was originally planned for Easter Langlee, Galashiels, to deal with garbage from across the Borders. It was part of a £80 million contract which SBC handed to NESG (now completely bankrupt and dissolved) and the company's offshore "funding partner" New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] - also insolvent and in the hands of liquidators.

Four months after being "impressed and excited" by what they were shown at Avonmouth SBC was forced to abandon their useless deal with NESG who could neither provide the council with a functioning treatment plant nor come up with the money to build it. The end result was a bill for at least £2.4 million for local taxpayers, most of the money having been squandered on costly legal firms and so-called experts. One Edinburgh law outfit trousered £679,000. Not a single brick was laid on site.

The fact finding mission to Bristol proved to have been a complete failure when the spluttering, misfiring flagship was transferred to different owners by NESG for no cash consideration together with accumulated debts running into tens of millions of pounds.

A source told Not Just Sheep & Rugby: "The Borders delegation had been looking at a complete dud while being sold a pup".

Yet Councillor David Parker, leader of SBC in 2014, told the Border Telegraph immediately after the jaunt to south-west England that the visit had been 'valuable and illuminating'.

He went on to claim: "The integrated WTF is a really big deal for our council as it will transform the way we deal with our waste and help us comply with our zero waste obligations.

“It also involves a major investment, in partnership with NES, which requires councillors to carry out due diligence and, in that respect, the trip was necessary. I am satisfied after our visit that we are on the right track and confident that the WTF will be up and running before the 2019 contract deadline, hopefully by mid-2017.”
The thermal technology flagship is now in the ownership of Avonmouth Bio Power Ltd whose latest annual report has just been published. The plant itself has not been operating since 2016.
According to the report: "From commencement the plant always operated at below its design point and this led to reduced thermal output and reduced availability. This lack of performance, and hence lack of revenue generation resulted in the decision to suspend operations at the plant with a view to implementing a major redevelopment programme".
Proposals for redevelopment have, it is claimed, been "materially progressed" over the last year.
"Detailed redevelopment plans are currently being finalised and it is anticipated that these works will commence during the first half of 2018 and that operations at the plant may recommence in early 2020". That target is said to "remain realistic".
Meanwhile the company's loss for the financial year is given as £6.146 million, ten times greater than the £620,000 deficit in 2016. Creditors are owed £16.480 million within 12 months (up from £13.171 million).
Avonmouth Bio Power has net liabilities of £12.490 million (£6.343 million the previous year), and there is a shareholders' deficit of £8 million (£4.035 million)
There is no doubt from that set of statistics that the flagship is proving to represent a considerable drain on financial resources although shareholders Aurium Avonmouth LLP have given an undertaking to bankroll the operation over the next 12 months.
Borders council taxpayers and users of the local waste disposal services may wish to contemplate - then shudder to think - what could have happened had a scaled down version of the Avonmouth "dud" been thrown up on the outskirts of Galashiels!
But unfortunately the regulatory bodies who revel in the title "guardians of the public pound" have repeatedly refused to investigate the catastrophic and disturbing affair.





Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Uncontested council contracts "extremely rare"

by DOUGLAS SHEPHERD

The decision by Scottish Borders Council to extend a lucrative waste recycling contract without going through the tendering process is "extremely rare in local government", Not Just Sheep & Rugby has been told.

And research suggests that in the five years from January 2013 to December 2017 only one other Scottish local authority announced its intention to award an uncontested contract. However, in that particular case the value of the work was below the threshold covered by European contract rules.

As we reported recently SBC has issued two so-called VEAT (voluntary ex ante transparency) notices via the Public Contracts Scotland website during the last twelve months, the second one earlier this month. On both occasions contract extensions have been handed to J & B Recycling Ltd., of Hartlepool without inviting rival bids.

The company has been hauling mixed dry recyclates from Borders waste transfer stations the 110 miles to Tees-side since 2011 when it was appointed as a sub-contractor to New Earth Solutions, the now bankrupt and dissolved waste treatment "specialists".

The arrangement continued following the collapse of the SBC New Earth deal in 2015. The mixed consignments of recyclable garbage are transported south after the council has collected the rubbish from communities throughout the region.

Critics argue that an alternative haulage firm might have been able to submit a lower tender while there are treatment centres in closer proximity to the Scottish Borders than the Hartlepool facility.

On the other hand the council claim in their latest VEAT notice that the selected award procedure for the £300,000 a year contract can be justified due to "extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority and in accordance with the strict conditions stated in the Directive.

"Explanation - Scottish Borders Council is in the process of reviewing future requirements for all Waste Management Services. During this period the highest priority for the Council is existing service delivery. Therefore until the new Waste Management Plan is fully implemented and to avoid a disproportionate impact on current waste operations it is necessary that existing arrangements relating to service provision continue."

There were no VEAT notices issued by any local authority during 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. So the 2017 notice posted by SBC was indeed a rare event.

The second 2017 notice emanated from Aberdeenshire Council under the heading Laurencekirk Affordable Housing. As stated earlier, in that case the value fell below the European procurement regulations and directives.

A procurement expert told us: "VEAT notices are only used in very rare circumstances when directly awarding or extending contracts in exceptional circumstances. I see no justifiable rationale for directly awarding to J&B.

"They collect from waste transfer stations and do not do the collections; therefore any other operator could have done this without disrupting waste collections or strategies. It seems SBC have done this for convenience."

The expert explained it was open to anyone who felt aggrieved by the lack of competition to report the matter to Audit Scotland with a request for an investigation.

Objectors could highlight the alleged lack of regard for the procurement regulations (i.e. open, fair, transparent process). The consequences for the Borders public could be not obtaining best value.

"A couple of other points relate to potential disregard for air quality via carbon emissions through transporting such long distances when other facilities are available much closer to the Borders", added the expert. "A local company may have wanted to tender for this and have therefore been denied an opportunity."