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16 November 2011 | Adam Leach
Kent County Council awarded £4.9 million of contracts through non-competitive processes, a
Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
The data, acquired by the local paper’s website Kent Online, showed that
between April 2009 and March 2011, 26 contracts with a combined value of £4.9
million were awarded without following the standard competitive process.
Under council policy, which is written in line with EU law, any contract worth
£50,000 or above, or £20,000 or above for consultancy, has to be competitively
tendered. However, certain circumstances, such as a lack of specialist
suppliers, allow for exceptions to be made. One of the 26 contracts was
£350,000 to extend services for the Kent TV deal with Ten Alps. The council
said that it was justified because it was an extension rather than a new
arrangement and that the original contract would be re-tendered once the
extension had elapsed.
A Kent County Council spokesman said: "KCC will always endeavour to
achieve best value by going to the marketplace for competitive tender. In
exceptional circumstances, we will either not use the lowest bid because it
does not reflect the best value offer, taking into account quality measures as
well as price, or, in even more exceptional circumstances, where there is only
one supplier that can deliver the goods or services we require. Or sometimes,
we need to extend an existing contract, which will have been let competitively,
to allow time to carry out a procurement process."
Other contracts included £101,000 for an Alzheimer’s outreach worker, which was
awarded directly to Alzheimer’s Society Maidstone because of a lack of
specialist providers. A £100,000 deal for external consultancy that was awarded
to Waste Consulting East Kent Joint Waste Project was not competitively
tendered because the company concerned had been involved in the project at an
earlier stage. The council ruled: “To seek other consultants with the same
level of knowledge and expertise would severely delay the final stages of the
The deals preceded Henry Swan, head of procurement who joined the council 10
weeks ago, having previously been a procurement director in the construction
sector. He told SM: “We need to be
planning ahead. There are good reasons why we need to conduct these tenders in
a non-competitive way but some of them could have been avoided with better
He said, for example, while the authority had to ensure there was no break in essential
services such as childcare or meals on wheels, when it came to extending
existing deals to allow more time for a procurement process, better planning
would have avoided the situation.
Public sector authorities are permitted to consider not simply the
lowest bid but the ‘most economically advantageous tender’ by applying criteria
that takes wider economic implications into account.