Interest mounts in City Hall contracts

A clutch of companies have already indicated they would be interested in running a string of city council services which are up for grabs after a rescue package collapsed.

A rescue deal which would have secured the jobs of about 300 workers who were made redundant when city council contractor Connaught Partnerships went into administration was dashed on Thursday when Norwich City Council said it could not go ahead with it because of the risk of a legal challenge.

That deal, with the un-named 'company B', would have seen that company take on the housing repairs and maintenance contract at the same �17.5m base price as the Connaught deal and the vast majority of former Connaught workers given jobs.

But it fell through because lawyers were worried another company would mount a legal challenge, so the council now needs to re-let interim contracts for nine to 12 months before re-letting the permanent contracts.

However, with public notices for the interim contracts going out any day now, it looks as if there will be plenty of competition for those contracts.

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Bosses at Norse, Morrison and Enterprise have confirmed they are all interested in those and the permanent contracts.

Companies such as Lovell, Ward & Rooney Heating Ltd and Ashford Commercial Ltd have already been awarded emergency contracts for emergency housing repairs, gas servicing and window repairs.

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Lovell has confirmed it is interested in bidding for the interim contracts, but a number of big-hitters are already circling the contracts on a permanent basis.

Peter Hawes, managing director of Norse - an arms length company owned by Norfolk County Council - confirmed his company was interested in taking on the contracts on an interim and permanent basis.

He said: 'We would be happy to try to work with the city council to undertake the work. The short-term contracts are something which will take a while to get together, but we would be interested in that and the longer-term permanent contracts.

'We certainly would be interested. We see that as our role locally to try to work with another local authority.'

A spokeswoman for Morrison, the parent company of CityCare which had provided services for a decade before it was split up, said the company was 'happy to tender for one of the contracts'.

Enterprise, which held an open day at Carrow Road this week attended by almost 400 people, including many former Connaught workers is also in the running.

A spokeswoman said they were putting together a bid for the temporary contracts, and if that proved successful, then they would be interested in the permanent contracts.

She added the company was keen to involve as many of the former Connaught workers as possible and would be reviewing the details of those who went along to the open day.

What nobody knows at this point is whether any of the companies would be prepared to take on the social housing contract for the same price of Connaught - �17.5m a year.

While it appears company B had been, it remains to be seen if that company would still put forward the same bid in open competition.

If they did the council would see that as vindicating their decision to award it to Connaught for that much in the first place - as that has been the focus of much of the criticism over the past month.

When the contract was originally put out to tender Connaught's bid of �17.5m was �5.5m below the next lowest bid, with the majority of the bids within a range of �23m to �26m.

In February, Morrison successfully obtained an injunction to prevent the contract being awarded to Connaught after raising concerns the bid was 'abnormally low', something the council denied.

Although the case never came to court, because a settlement was reached between the council and Morrison, the judge who awarded the injunction, said he believed there was a 'serious issue to be tried as to the pricing of the Connaught bid and as to the investigations that the council undertook to assure itself that it was a properly sustainable bid.'

In the long run, the council says procurement legislation means it will take a year to let the permanent contracts, which will run for between five and seven years and will come into effect when the temporary contracts come to an end.

The council hopes the temporary contracts will be up and running by November.

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