Council awards £4.9 million deals without competitive tender

16 November 2011

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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 project.”

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 planning.”

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.



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