21 August 2010 | Angeline Albert
A challenge to prevent a firm with links to railway construction in Israel’s disputed territories from bidding for work with Edinburgh City Council has been defeated.
A motion by the authority’s councillors calling for Veolia Environnement and its subsidiaries to be excluded from new contracts was defeated at a full council meeting on Thursday (19 August).
The French multinational’s subsidiary Veolia Environmental Services has been shortlisted for the council’s Alternative Business Models (ABM) programme, which invites private sector companies to deliver public services through joint ventures and strategic partnerships.
But a motion brought by Green councillor Maggie Chapman and Labour councillor Angela Blacklock said Veolia’s involvement in building a light railway system linking Israel to settlements in east Jerusalem’s disputed territories was contrary to United Nations demands that Israeli settlement activities should not be supported.
Council leaders, however, argued banning Veolia on these grounds could lead to legal action against the authority which itself must comply with procurement laws as described in the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
Liberal Democrat council leader Jenny Dawe wrote to all members of the public who raised concerns to say: “It is this council’s interpretation of these regulations that a candidate’s political/ethical connections cannot be considered in selecting or awarding contracts. For a candidate to be excluded under regulation 23 there would have to be very clear and robust evidence that the company had relevant criminal convictions or has behaved in a way that constitutes grave misconduct. I am informed that the council has seen no evidence that this is the case.”
She said considering ethical and political considerations when selecting candidates was “unlawful” and “may provide valid grounds for a successful legal challenge leading to an award of damages”.
A spokesman for Veolia Environmental Services said the firm did not wish to comment.
The ABM programme is part of the council’s cost-cutting measures. The funding gap for Edinburgh’s council services in 2010-11 was estimated to be £33.4 million, according to the director of finance in June 2009.