Monday, 28 November 2016

Borders waste treatment fiasco: 'post mortem' (part one)

EWAN LAMB reports

Two heavily censored documents containing the findings of separate "lessons learnt" workshops during and after Scottish Borders Council's disastrous £80 million waste treatment contract with penniless New Earth Solutions Group have been released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The local authority attempted to keep the damaging material under wraps. But following a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner six weeks ago, SBC has provided redacted copies of the requested reports.

Generous applications of black ink to obliterate entire passages and even parts of sentences make the reports from 2011 and 2015 difficult to comprehend. But there is enough evidence in the untouched sections to show a catalogue of issues during the six-year duration of the ill-fated and costly relationship between council and contractor.

In part one of our coverage of the reports we will deal with the September 27th 2011 workshop which tackled "lessons learnt" from the procurement of the never-to-be-built £21 million waste treatment project at Easter Langlee, Galashiels. The non-project was to cost Borders taxpayers £2.4 million, a sum written off in cavalier fashion as the second part of the story will show.

The identities of those officers who participated in the workshops have been kept secret so all contributions to the debate are from anonymous individuals.

For example, at the beginning of the 2011 document "(black square to hide name) highlighted that lessons learnt can be positive and the officers who were involved in other large projects brought good experience to the project". Another speaker agreed there had been a positive change when officers were brought into the project. Readers can only speculate as to the role of officials prior to their involvement.

In an apparently worrying revelation we are told: "The group agreed that one of the main problems at the start seemed to be that the project board consisted wholly of external agency staff and due to the level of seniority of the membership (Acting Director of Technical Services, Acting Head of Environment) it was difficult to challenge the decision making process".

Yet at the end of the day these 'outsiders' had picked up hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees - paid for by local council taxpayers - and even though the project was a complete failure they presumably knew what they were doing.

According to the 'post mortem' report this structure generated a number of issues:

*Lack of operational understanding of the council's needs.
*Conflict of interests.
*No project ownership.
*No responsibility for project consequences.
*Officers were kept at arms length and were not given...(rest of sentence redacted).

To the layman this probably sounds like a recipe for the disaster which developed over the lifetime of the contract as New Earth Solutions had neither the technology nor the funding to deliver the vital piece of Borders infrastructure.

A team member claimed there had been no consistence in the terms and conditions that the agency and consultants were commissioned under. The report adds: "As the frameworks are now in place, it will help overcome these issues, but importantly the appropriate informed officers need to write a robust brief to ensure the consultants deliver what you actually require

"-- indicated that it was important to get project support in place to free up the project manager to make better use of his time, unfortunately it took at least nine months for this to happen".

Then, another list of specific issues are laid out.

*No profiling of capital budget. Progress was not reported to the appropriate council committees.
*The PM (project manager) allowed consultants to write their own briefs.
*The consultant did not identify that a remediation strategy was required for the site. This was a risk that sat with the council.
*Bonus contract for consultants. There are other alternatives.
*No insurance expertise within the team, which was a crucial element when officers became involved.
*No realistic programme in place.
*No business case development.

Surely this damning evidence begs the question "Where were the Borders elected members who were supposed to be in charge of the project? Did any of them even bother to raise questions with consultants or officials? It seems they were content to take a back seat and abdicate responsibility.


How a Scottish Borders Council delegation was taken on an expensive two-day site visit to the WRONG "over positive"New Earth Solutions facility 110 miles from the plant they should have toured!

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