Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Fury and outrage at "Brodies' beanfeast"

Members of the public have condemned Scottish Borders Council's financial recklessness following the publication of the sums spent on lawyers and consultants during the failed attempt to develop and build a waste treatment facility at Easter Langlee.

And it has now come to light that the figures released by the local authority under Freedom of Information did not include VAT at 20 per cent because SBC can claim back the tax.

If VAT is added the total expenditure on the disastrous venture rises from £1,968,160 to £2,361,792 while the legal advice from Edinburgh law firm Brodies, which cost the council a whopping £679,316 goes up to £815,178 with Value Added Tax.

The outcry from people who contacted Not Just Sheep & Rugby appears to be in sharp contrast to the deafening silence from councillors, local politicians and public spending watchdogs who seem singularly unconcerned by the total loss of a sizeable amount of public money.

One respondent who got in touch after reading our article entitled Law firm scoops up £670,000 of council cash said: "These statistics are quite outrageous and incredible. There must be a requirement for even more pressure to force the appropriate investigative body to conduct an inquiry."

Another message asked what SBC had received in return for the hundreds of thousands of pounds paid in what was described as "Brodies beanfeast"

A calculation sent to us by email estimated that if Brodies charged the council say £400 per hour for their expert services to procure the £80 million deal with New Earth Solutions Ltd then their legal team must have racked up just short of 2,000 hours on SBC business. On a costing base of 35 hours per week Brodies bill worked out at over a year's work excluding holidays!

In their FOI response SBC also maintained there would be no additional landfill costs over the next five years as a result of the cancellation of the NES contract. But a sceptical caller told us: "I do not accept that there will be no implications for landfill tax. The project papers indicate that one of the drivers for the facility was to minimise exposure to this [landfill tax]".

Someone else wondered how much input councillors had over the life of the ill-fated project. But that would be difficult to establish in view of the secrecy surrounding all of the proceedings at committee meetings and the refusal to make documents available for public scrutiny.

The crucial chapter in the long-running saga was undoubtedly the controversial decision approved or rubber-stamped by the elected members in October 2012 to radically alter the contract with New Earth Solutions to include an incinerator based on completely untested technology.

"What took place at that private meeting holds the key to the entire collapse of the plans and the subsequent failure to deliver a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant which had planning permission and environmental permits", said yet another individual who felt moved to write to us.

He added: "I don't suppose any of the council members are waste treatment specialists, so they would require a full and detailed briefing from their paid officials before giving the go-ahead for the combined MBT and Advanced Thermal Treatment plant. Was it a unanimous decision or did anyone move a counter-motion?

"Those briefing documents must be placed in the public domain. The present lack of transparency and the use of the commercial confidentiality shield by SBC is simply stoking the suspicions of their own residents. Surely council tax payers have a legitimate interest in the loss of at least £2 million and how that will impinge on a diminution of other council services."

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