Norwich MP repeats calls for Connaught probe

An MP has repeated his call for an independent probe into Norwich City Council's decision to make Connaught responsible for fixing and maintaining council homes, saying it is even more vital now that the contract needs to be re-let.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright called for an inquiry last month after Connaught Partnerships went into administration and more than 300 workers were made redundant.

Since his calls, which were sparked by concern that the �17.5m a year bid by Connaught to fix and maintain 17,000 council homes around Norwich was an 'abnormally low bid' which was never going to stack up, a rescue package the city council was hoping to turn around has fallen through.

The city council had hoped to transfer the contract to another company on the same terms and conditions as Connaught, but lawyers advised them not to because the authority could face a legal challenge.

Instead, contracts will need to be let on an interim basis of nine to 12 months, while the contracts go out to tender on a permanent basis - a process which could take up to a year.

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And Mr Wright said that intensified the need for a probe into what happened when the contract was originally awarded, so if mistakes were made they are not repeated.

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Wright said: 'I feel dreadfully sorry that the deal was not viable and is not going to give people back their jobs. 'There are hundreds who lost their jobs because of the collapse of Connaught and everyone would want to see them given security.

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'It is a great shame this has not worked out as a quick solution. I continue to be in contact with a number of ex Connaught employees and they clearly wanted a resolution.

'In terms of the circumstances around the contract, I think it is absolutely crucial that we have a full, independent investigation of the process around the awarding of the contract.'

The EDP last week supported calls for an independent inquiry and Mr Wright said: 'I am very pleased the EDP is pushing strongly for this too, because the council needs to review its decision-making process before the awards of the next set of contracts.

'The Morrison injunction process raised questions, so there are concerns and it is vital that, rather than brushing concerns to one side, the council carries out this independent investigation.'

The council rejected calls for an independent inquiry last week, although its own scrutiny committee is to review the process by which contracts are awarded, with particular attention paid to the Connaught contract.

Alan Waters, cabinet member for corporate resources and governance and chairman of the contracts working party, batted away calls for an independent inquiry last week when he said 'I think time would be better spent 'moving forward rather than trying to rewrite history.'

He said the council had done nothing wrong in the awarding of the contract in the first place and said the collapse of Connaught was a national problem, not one created by the contract in Norwich.

When the rescue deal collapsed last week Mr Waters called for the city's MPs to lobby the government to change the law on procurement processes so public bodies are not tied up in so much red tape.

Mr Wright said: 'I am very keen to hear from the city council on how they feel the process could be improved, because I would be able to discuss those concerns with ministers.

'If there is a possibility to change things at a national level to ensure councils hit by the collapse of contractors are able to address the situation in a way that will suit everyone, then I am very keen to have a dialogue with them about that.'

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