Council questioned over bypass contract

LORNA MARSH County decision-makers have been called to question over their agreement to appoint a building firm for the controversial £100m northern bypass for Norwich without consultation or tender.

LORNA MARSH

County decision-makers have been called to question over their agreement to appoint a building firm for the controversial £100m northern bypass for Norwich without consultation or tender.

Norfolk County Council's cabinet will appoint May Gurney to carry out the work on the Northern Distributor Route (NDR), which will start at the A47 in Postwick, linking via the A140 and A1067 through to Weston Longville when the time comes, subject to contract negotiation.

But deputy Labour leader Trevor Wainwright and fellow Labour councillor John Collop have put forward a call-in letter asking that the matter be looked at by the council's scrutiny committee today.

The letter asked what proof there could be that May Gurney was the best value if the deal is not tested against competitors; how would negotiations be achieved on a perceived “done deal”; and whether the cabinet's decision was standard practice among other authorities.

Mr Wainwright and Mr Collop also asked if it was “right or even fair” that the responsibility for agreeing such a large project contract should rest with just one council officer.

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In a report to scrutiny, Mike Jackson, the council's director of planning and transportation, stated that May Gurney was appointed the council's contractor partner through competitive tender in 2004, resulting in a £400m-plus, 10-year contract.

Mr Jackson continued: “The construction industry has been moving increasingly towards longer-term partnering procurement arrangements over a number of years. This has been supported and encouraged by government.”

He stated that recent research reports highlighted the fact that the anticipated benefits of competitive tendering often failed to materialise.

“The short-term nature of the relationship means there is a strong incentive for the contractor to underbid the cost and then seek to build profit back in through subsequent claims after contract award.

“The tendency towards an adversarial relationship adds cost on both sides and can cause significant delays.”

Mr Jackson also said the use of May Gurney would cut out both procurement and tendering costs, both of which would ultimately fall to the council.

He added: “A separate procurement exercise also brings with it the risk of delay.

“A one-year delay in agreeing a target cost could add £3m to £4m to the cost through inflation.”

Mr Jackson said the final contract sign off will be by cabinet acting on advice from a project working group.

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