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19 June 2012 | Kamalpreet Badasha
Wirral Borough Council has spent an extra £1.5 million as a result of an inconsistent tendering process for its highway and engineering services (HES) contract.
A report by the Audit Commission found a “number of weaknesses” in the contract award and management. The supplier’s bid for electrical work was made on the assumption that the council would pay a sub-contractor on the project, but the council expected the private contractor to include these costs. The authority initially raised concerns over the low bid, but accepted it anyway.
The report also revealed the council’s director of technical services, along with a council officer, met a representative from the private contractor prior to the awarding of the contract on 16 October 2008 to discuss it. The report said the director should have declared his relationship prior to the contract award instead of waiting until 11 November 2008. The report added that the council was likely to have broken EU rules surrounding fairness and equal treatment covering procurement by favouring one contractor with a meeting.
In addition, the HES contract was not signed until 17 March 2010, a year after the work began, exposing the Council to risks of disputes over contract terms. The council also did not enter the matter in its risk register, although the legal and technical services department were aware of the inconsistency. The commission calls on the council to eliminate such inconsistencies.
The 21 recommendations made by the audit commission include the improvement of the council’s tender evaluation and contract management procedures. It also suggested improving the procedures relating to the management and reporting of risks, declaring interests, reviewing and complying with procedure rules and internal audits.
“As a council, we must now ensure what is wrong is put right – the people of Wirral deserve no less. An independent investigation is currently underway with regard to the role of the director of technical services in this matter,” said Wirral Council leader Phil Davies.
“Furthermore, while I accept all the recommendations that have been made by the Audit Commission, I am committed to going further. I am seeking an early meeting with opposition group leaders Jeff Green and Tom Harney to discuss the report and agree an all-party approach to tackling the issues raised. Never again must this council fail to ensure our contracts demonstrate value for money for the people of Wirral. Together we have a duty to rebuild trust in this council - a duty I intend to deliver upon.”
The contract is still currently in place.