Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Lessons learned not for public consumption


The results of a "lessons learned" workshop, held by Scottish Borders Council in the wake of their disastrous waste management contract with New Earth Solutions, are to remain a closely guarded secret despite the loss of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

A Freedom of Information request invited the local authority to provide copies of reports generated by the 'post-mortem' into the total failure by SBC and its contractors and funders to deliver a modern waste treatment facility at Easter Langlee on the outskirts of Galashiels.

The request also asked for details of all costs incurred by the council following the termination of the £65 million contract in February 2015. At least £2.4 million had been squandered on specialist lawyers, consultants and on internal costs by the time the technological and funding issues facing the project proved insurmountable.

Those additional costs so far total in excess of £50,000, including payments to at least four sets of consultants for advice on the formulation of a revised waste management strategy. Technical advice has cost the public purse £22,031, a financial consultancy has been paid £4,400, environmental specialists have picked up £4,069 while project management costs are stated to be £806. An item entitled internal fees comes to £6,922.

The closing down of the NES contract involved legal expenses of £6,627 and internal fees of £5,518. All of this on top of the £2.4 million spent prior to last February.

But there is to be no disclosure of the lessons learned by the council as a result of having their fingers burned by the waste incineration industry.

In their FOI response, the council confirms the lessons learned documentation is being withheld.

SBC adds: "The request involves making available internal communications. There is considerable public interest in applying the exemption in this particular case.

"The purpose of a lessons learned workshop is to critically analyse and examine the project to highlight any things that could or should have been done better, or differently, or not at all, or indeed identify other approaches which could have been taken."

However, the council claims such a process would only be effective and worthwhile if those participating were free to be open and honest and the information was able to be properly recorded for internal purposes on that basis.

According to SBC: "If it is likely that the contents of that debate or discussion will be released into the public domain, it would inevitably lead to those people being restrained in their communication and the workshop's effectiveness being significantly reduced as a result.

"The public interest in securing this free and frank internal communication outweighs any public interest in this particular information being released in this case".

A local government observer commented: "This is certainly a novel way of achieving a cover up. How can keeping this kind of information under wraps be in the public interest? If SBC has nothing to hide why are they frustrating efforts to get at the truth at every turn?"

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