Monday, 15 June 2015

From trailblazers to Emperor's New Clothes!


Two previously unpublished reports relating to the proposed multi-million pound refuse treatment facility planned for Galashiels reveal that members of Scottish Borders Council were assured the project offered them the chance to become Scotland's trailblazers in the field of waste management.

But the confidential documents, released by the council as a result of a Freedom of Information request, have been  heavily redacted (censored) to conceal facts and figures which persuaded councillors to award the project contract to New Earth Solutions Group (NES) in March 2011 and to maintain the veil of secrecy surrounding the financially and environmentally disastrous contract variation, agreed by the council just 18 months later in October 2012.

The sheer scale of the passages blacked out in the reports is difficult to convey, but the obliteration even extends to the names of those who compiled the crucial documents on which decisions were made...decisions which would ultimately cost Borders council taxpayers at least £2 million.

The earlier of the two reports, dated March 24 2011 and titled WASTE TREATMENT PROCUREMENT PROJECT - RECOMMENDATION FOR CONTRACT AWARD - is in the name of SBC's Chief Executive (David Hume held the post at the time) but even his name is obscured with thick black ink.

And the same applies to the authors of the report although their titles remain 'un-redacted'. They are the Project Manager, Head of Neighbourhood Services, Head of Procurement - Senior Supplier, Head of Engineering & Infrastructure - Project Assurance, Finance Business Partner, Waste Treatment Manager and Procurement Consultant (external).

This report, marked 'CONFIDENTIAL NOT FOR PUBLICATION, explains that the main purpose of the project is to provide the council with a treatment solution to minimise the amount of waste being landfilled to meet European Union directives. It would also deliver cost avoidance measures to mitigate the predicted rise in Landfill Tax (£8 per tonne per annum) over the coming years.

"Overall, the council cannot legislatively or financially afford to continue to direct the majority of the waste to landfill", the report warns. The failure to deliver the Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility four years later must surely have destroyed SBC's waste strategy even if senior officers and leading councillors fail to acknowledge that fact.

The March 2011 report states: "It is believed that early tendering for an appropriate solution for the Scottish Borders has helped secure a more competitive financial arrangement than may have been the case when more tendering exercises are underway elsewhere in Scotland. In particular, the authorities in the central belt will have more lucrative contracts to procure and could have drawn market interest and best value away from the Scottish Borders".

Does that mean SBC will face potentially serious procurement issues if and when it decides to embark on a mission to secure a replacement contractor for NES?

The report adds: "The contract follows closely a PPP type contract with elements of risk and savings sharing. These elements are designed to allow NES to be incentivised to perform above the contractual levels but also allow the council to share in any increased income or reduced costs".

No doubt the following passage fostered a sense of pride among elected members who accepted the NES bid: "This contract will make Scottish Borders Council the lead authority in Scotland, with a facility and contract that can be adapted over time to meet the changing needs of the waste industry."

Unfortunately that golden opportunity would be thrown overboard a few short months later. As one observer remarked: 'Oh how the mighty are fallen".

It is clear that had Borders councillors stuck with the original contract for the MBT at Easter Langlee some 80% of the region's household waste would have been diverted from landfill by now.

Instead they opted to vary the contract to include a completely untried and untested technology to convert refuse into energy via incineration. The insurmountable problems associated with this risky advanced thermal process led to the entire project being abandoned earlier this year.

The limited amount of un-redacted information in the second report, WASTE TREATMENT PROJECT CONTRACT VARIATION will be covered in a future article on the Not Just Sheep and Rugby website.

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