Connaught rescue deal dashed

Hopes that a deal could be struck which would have handed a jobs lifeline to the majority of the 300 workers made redundant by the collapse of Connaught have been dashed.

Norwich City Council had been locked in talks with a contractor which had agreed in principle to have the housing repairs and maintenance contract, responsible for fixing and maintaining 17,000 council homes in the city, transferred to it.

But the council said its lawyers had advised them that transferring that contract, even for the same price and on the same terms and conditions, could lead to a legal challenge - so the plug was pulled on the deal with the unnamed company, known only as company B.

Instead temporary contracts for housing repairs and maintenance, plus other services previously provided by Connaught are to be put out to tender on interim nine and 12 month contracts.

The council hopes they will be up and running by the end of November.

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Alan Waters, cabinet member for corporate resources and governance and chair of the contracts working party, said: 'This is hugely frustrating for us because the money is there to improve tenants' homes, the work is there and the workforce is ready to do it, but we cannot go ahead with a common sense solution.

'We simply want to let these important contracts and get as many of the ex-Connaught workers back into work as soon as possible.

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'We always knew we would need to be cautious, but the risk has now escalated and we are aware of at least two companies that may have launched a legal challenge had this transfer gone ahead.

'Top level legal advice received today makes it clear that we must invite the market to bid for these contracts or face substantial risk and cost.

'This casts doubt over contracts transferred outside Connaught by other councils working with the administrator and demonstrates just how much public bodies are restricted by existing procurement regulations. We will be calling on our MPs to help the city and lobby the government for changes to this law.'

• See tomorrow's Evening News for the full story.

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