Friday brief: Just under £1m paid to consultants to work up controversial road contract
Plus an update on legal action over the Sixfields land sale, Westminster Watch and a councillor has his bid to build a luxury cottage turned down.
This Friday we can exclusively reveal the costs paid to consultants to work up the county’s new highways contract. Plus there’s an update on the story we brought you earlier this week about a leading Conservative councillor’s bid to build a cottage in a conservation area.
We sent our paying members two stories this week about the local enterprise partnership’s commissioning of a report about more warehouses for the county and published a piece about the police force’s launch of a new strategy to reduce violence against women.
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Councils spends just under £1m on consultants to spec up new highways contract
Just under £1m has been spent on consultants and solicitors to draw up the new highways contract, which has been given to the firm which has been doing the work for the past decade.
Kier has been awarded the contract for both the west and north of the county and over the next seven years will be paid £420m over that time by the two authorities - a spend of £30m each a year. This is £10m a year more than the existing contract (signed by the former county council).
Now NN Journal can exclusively reveal that £996,000 of taxpayers money has gone to private consultants since 2020 to draw up the parameters of the contract requirements and check the legal arrangements.
The councils have released this table outlining the payments made until this month. OPUS LGSS is a recruitment firm part owned by the authority and led by Suffolk County Council. It has signed up a number of consultants to provide services such as options appraisals, contract documentation and advice about restructuring staffing. The authorities will bring the contract oversight back in house. This was previously monitored by Kier itself.
A joint statement from both councils said:
“The award of a highways contract is one of the most complex and expensive duties a council has to perform and is heavily controlled and regulated as we must adhere to strict procurement regulations. Not only does the council incur significant expenditure in the process but so do all the bidders, whether they are successful in the process or not.
“In line with best practice followed by organisations up and down the country, the use of independent and impartial consultants with specialist procurement expertise is essential to ensure we follow this highly technical and legal process as effectively as possible. The money spent on this represents the front-end investment required to ensure that we get the right contract with the best level of resource possible, which will then pay dividends to our community in terms of service improvements for years to come.”
The awarding of the contract has led to much discontent with opposition councillors on both authorities who say they have been kept in the dark about the remit of the contract and are angry that it has not been before any scrutiny committee before being awarded.
Leader of the Labour opposition on the north unitary Cllr John McGhee said:
“£1m to give the same contract to the same organisation is an absolute disgrace. The £1m could have been spent on filling in potholes.
“We (opposition councillors) have not had the key performance indicators of how Kier has managed its existing contract. That should have been seen by all councillors. It is irresponsible. Cllr Smithers says he runs an open and honest council but we are only getting words not actions.”
Cllr McGhee said he wants the new contract to go before the scrutiny commission.
In a statement given earlier this week deputy Labour leader on the west unitary cllr Bob Purser said:
“There is cross-party concern that the administration has decided to award this contract to Kier, increasing the financial reward for fulfilling a service for which there is widespread dissatisfaction. There are un-mended potholes, poor road surfaces and little progress has been made to improve cycleways and footpaths.
“There are many questions that remain about the tender process and whether it will meet the needs of West Northamptonshire residents and provide value for money as well as meeting the Councils climate and anti-poverty commitments.
“We will therefore be asking for this decision to be called in to be examined through the scrutiny process and will be closely assessing how and why the decision was taken.”
Kier was first awarded the contract back in 2010 and then had it extended. In 2018 in the aftermath of the financial collapse of the county council and internal audit was done which shed light how the contract was being run with Kier being seen as ‘judge and jury’.
For many years residents have been complaining about the poor quality of work by Kier. The identities of the other three companies that bid for the contract are unknown.
News in brief
West Northamptonshire Council’s finance cabinet member has had his bid to build a cottage in a conservation area refused.
Malcolm Longley’s application was turned down after the Daventry planning committee last night followed officers' recommendations.
The refusal comes six months after the application for the deluxe cottage in West Haddon had previously been agreed by the committee, which is made up by a majority of Cllr Longley’s Conservative colleagues. After a query from a local resident about the legality of the decision the application was put back before the committee.
Last night four councillors voted in favour of refusal (Labour’s Cllr Wendy Randall, Lib Dem Cllr Jonathan Harris and Conservatives Cllr Peter Matten and Cllr Daniel Cribbin ) while two Conservatives Cllr David Smith and Cllr DavidJames voted against refusal and three Conservatives (Cllr Irving Swift, Cllr Rupert Frost and Cllr Kevin Parker) left the meeting and did not vote.
Before the meeting councillors were given a refresher course on the code of conduct which included details of when they would have to declare an interest in matters and excuse themselves from voting.
Speaking afterwards, Cllr Randall, who is leader of the Labour opposition, said she had refused the application on its merits regardless of who had submitted it.
The property firm that put in a rival bid to buy council land close to Northampton Town Football Club at Sixfields has lodged a claim for a judicial review with the high court.
West Northamptonshire Council, which is run by chief executive Anna Earnshaw, will now have to legally justify its decision.
It is understood Cilldara’s claim centres around its assertion that the authority acted unlawfully in accepting the £2m bid by CDNL (a subsidiary of the football club) by not gaining best value for the taxpayer.
The council decided to sell the land to the Cobblers at a lower price than the £3m Cilldara was offering. At the cabinet meeting in March, where the decision was made, the higher price was not disclosed to the meeting.
After the decision was made council leader Jonathan Nunn told NN Journal the sale to CDNL was ‘consistent with professional advice’.
If the authority loses it could be forced to pay costs and the cost of legal advice will be paid for by WNC taxpayers.
A spokesperson for the council told NN Journal yesterday:
“We continue to believe that the decision taken by Cabinet in March is the right one for both the people of Northampton and for the club. Accordingly, we continue to progress the terms of the contract for the sale of the site as instructed by Cabinet. However, nothing has been signed as we are still in the process around the asset of community value, which was triggered at the end of February and is ongoing with a six month deadline for bids to be received and then considered.
“We will respond to the proceedings once we have had an opportunity to consider the claim that has been lodged.”
The matter follows on from a decade of issues between the league Two football club and the local authority.
This new legal action follows the disappearance of a £10.25m loan made to the club in 2013 by unitary’s successor council West Northamptonshire Council.
A police investigation has been running for several years and auditor KPMG last year said the authority had made ‘serious failings’ and accused it of unlawful decision making.
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone has called on parliament to bring in new legislation about sending asylum seekers to Rwanda if a current legal challenge to the Rwanda Bill is upheld.
As reported by the Guardian this week a judicial review has been launched by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the charity Care4Calais and the pressure group Detention Action, along with four asylum seekers facing removal to the east African state.
Up to 30 asylum seekers are due to be sent to Rwanda next week under the agreement made with the government and the African country.
Peter Bone said in parliament yesterday:
“Can I ask the leader of the house . . if the courts decide that somewhere the legislation is wrong, that he will immediately introduce new legislation to fix it so that we can end the people smuggling across the English channel.”
So far this year more than 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers have crossed the channel.
Corby MP Tom Pursglove is the minister for illegal immigration and has been involved in government’s plans on how to deal with the situation.
And in other Westminster news South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom is set to spill the beans on her time in parliament. The blurb for her political memoir Snakes and Ladders, which is published next month, says:
“Andrea puts the reader in the room to let them experience what it was really like, how it felt to be in those extraordinary situations, and how, like a game of snakes and ladders, it is often about getting yourself into the right place at the right time.”
Independent of the week
We’re keen to try out Puds ‘n’ Guds at Castle Theatre in Wellingborough which has long been getting rave reviews.
Open from Tuesday to Saturdays from 9am to 5pm (until 8pm on Thursdays) the cafe has a wide selection of meals and puddings and also makes cakes for the big occasions and caters for events.
Check out this cake:
😋 Towcester Food Festival is taking place tomorrow and Sunday at Towcester Racecourse from 10am to 6pm. Adult tickets from £6
🍲 Danny Tompkins Summer Festival will be offering street food at Lamport Hall on Saturday from midday to 8pm
💥 The sausage and cider festival is back at West Glebe Pavilion in Corby tomorrow from midday
🙌 Watch tribute band Fleetwood Bac tomorrow night at Corby Cube at 7.30pm
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