Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Uncontested council contracts "extremely rare"


The decision by Scottish Borders Council to extend a lucrative waste recycling contract without going through the tendering process is "extremely rare in local government", Not Just Sheep & Rugby has been told.

And research suggests that in the five years from January 2013 to December 2017 only one other Scottish local authority announced its intention to award an uncontested contract. However, in that particular case the value of the work was below the threshold covered by European contract rules.

As we reported recently SBC has issued two so-called VEAT (voluntary ex ante transparency) notices via the Public Contracts Scotland website during the last twelve months, the second one earlier this month. On both occasions contract extensions have been handed to J & B Recycling Ltd., of Hartlepool without inviting rival bids.

The company has been hauling mixed dry recyclates from Borders waste transfer stations the 110 miles to Tees-side since 2011 when it was appointed as a sub-contractor to New Earth Solutions, the now bankrupt and dissolved waste treatment "specialists".

The arrangement continued following the collapse of the SBC New Earth deal in 2015. The mixed consignments of recyclable garbage are transported south after the council has collected the rubbish from communities throughout the region.

Critics argue that an alternative haulage firm might have been able to submit a lower tender while there are treatment centres in closer proximity to the Scottish Borders than the Hartlepool facility.

On the other hand the council claim in their latest VEAT notice that the selected award procedure for the £300,000 a year contract can be justified due to "extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority and in accordance with the strict conditions stated in the Directive.

"Explanation - Scottish Borders Council is in the process of reviewing future requirements for all Waste Management Services. During this period the highest priority for the Council is existing service delivery. Therefore until the new Waste Management Plan is fully implemented and to avoid a disproportionate impact on current waste operations it is necessary that existing arrangements relating to service provision continue."

There were no VEAT notices issued by any local authority during 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. So the 2017 notice posted by SBC was indeed a rare event.

The second 2017 notice emanated from Aberdeenshire Council under the heading Laurencekirk Affordable Housing. As stated earlier, in that case the value fell below the European procurement regulations and directives.

A procurement expert told us: "VEAT notices are only used in very rare circumstances when directly awarding or extending contracts in exceptional circumstances. I see no justifiable rationale for directly awarding to J&B.

"They collect from waste transfer stations and do not do the collections; therefore any other operator could have done this without disrupting waste collections or strategies. It seems SBC have done this for convenience."

The expert explained it was open to anyone who felt aggrieved by the lack of competition to report the matter to Audit Scotland with a request for an investigation.

Objectors could highlight the alleged lack of regard for the procurement regulations (i.e. open, fair, transparent process). The consequences for the Borders public could be not obtaining best value.

"A couple of other points relate to potential disregard for air quality via carbon emissions through transporting such long distances when other facilities are available much closer to the Borders", added the expert. "A local company may have wanted to tender for this and have therefore been denied an opportunity."

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