EXCLUSIVE - by EWAN LAMB
No fewer than 30 companies expressed an interest in bidding for the lucrative Scottish Borders waste treatment plant planned for Galashiels, yet councillors still ended up awarding the multi-million pound contract to a firm which could not deliver the project either technologically or financially.
A second 'confidential' document dated October 25th 2012, which persuaded elected members to take the disastrous decision to vary their contractual arrangements with New Earth Solutions Group (NES), has now been released under the Environmental Information (Scotland) regulations.
But like another report from March 2011 when SBC originally awarded the contract for the Easter Langlee waste facility to NES, huge swathes of text have been obscured by black ink because the information is considered to be "commercially sensitive". It means the reasons for the radical variation of the contract, which led to its collapse and abject failure earlier this year, remain a mystery.
Not Just Sheep & Rugby has been told that one of the bidders who made it through the initial procurement process was eliminated because the technology they planned to use was not considered 'mature' enough by senior officers at the council. But the authority later gave the job to NES even though that company's Energy from Waste systems were also untested and risky, and ultimately resulted in premature termination of the 24-year agreement with the loss of several millions of pounds of public money.
The heavily redacted 2012 report by the Director of Environment and Infrastructure - even his name and those of the three co-authors have been blacked out, presumably for commercially sensitive reasons - claims New Earth Solutions "are starting to successfully challenge the 'big six' waste management companies.
In recommending the contract variation to include both the Mechanical Biological Treatment and Advanced Thermal Treatment elements rather than building the MBT and ATT separately, the report asserts: "The proposed changes to the project still represent best value for the Council, to meet the legislative and financial drivers.
"The new integrated facility will actually deliver added benefits and reduced risk to the Council. Once funding is in place and the construction contracts have been signed the main contract does provide the Council with better protection from future changes in the financial viability of the project for New Earth Solutions.
"Therefore, this proposed Deed of Variation will provide NES with a fundable project that should provide the Council with an assured Waste Treatment Facility".
It appears that entire section of the document proved to be completely inaccurate and unfounded as the "assured" facility has not even be started let alone completed. Procurement experts warn that future costs associated with the catastrophic contract variation could run into many millions of pounds, including at least £2 million to re-tender the project.
Should SBC decide to opt for a so-called "off the shelf" solution then the capital cost (at 2012 prices) was estimated to be between £10 million and £20 million.
But, according to the censored report: "The level of technology available to local authorities is limited as a lot of the suppliers are signed up with the major waste companies. External expertise would be required to overcome the lack of experience operating a waste treatment facility".
The council has already squandered many hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants and lawyers for absolutely no return. So could another gravy train heavily laden with so-called experts be about to leave the terminus as the council attempts to resurrect its seriously damaged waste treatment strategy?
One of the recommendations in the 2012 report was to delegate powers to the council's Chief Executive, Director of Environment and Infrastructure, Chief Financial Officer and the Head of Legal and Democratic Services to vary the existing contract with NES.
Therefore Borders council taxpayers, who 'sponsored' this entire fiasco surely deserve an independent investigation in which the four office bearers listed in the report would be key witnesses. It is both disappointing and puzzling that none of the local government watchdogs or any of the Scottish Government ministers are supportive of calls for an inquiry.
We assume the generous lashings of black ink which adorn the pages of the council reports have been deployed solely to protect NES from industrial sabotage and not to hide the political embarrassment or the apparent incompetence of Borders councillors who are ultimately responsible for this expensive debacle.