MP demands answers on contract deal

Intense pressure is being put on council bosses to reveal how much taxpayers' money is being used to settle a long-running contract wrangle with a private consultancy firm.

Intense pressure is being put on council bosses to reveal how much taxpayers' money is being used to settle a long-running contract wrangle with a private consultancy firm.

The local MP and opposition councillors have demanded that Waveney District Council does not hide behind a cloak of secrecy after it emerged an offer had been made to its former private partner.

The council is understood to have torn up the contract because the consultants had not achieved the desired efficiency savings in the benefits department. It was then forced to admit it had illegally awarded more than £650,000 of contracts to Kendric Ash because it had not gone through the correct tendering process.

The Tory-run council has refused to divulge the sum it has offered to settle the contract because legal proceedings are in progress but admits in a document that it is being done to avoid an expensive court case.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard said: “It is a major issue because we had the council doing something illegally and now it seems to have cost it a lot of money. But it is not the council's money, it is the council taxpayers', and I think they have every right to know how every penny of their money is being spent.

“It is essential people know what the extent of the payment is so they can make their judgment on the council. This is what democracy is about.”

Most Read

Mr Blizzard added that, if the council continued to refuse to reveal the amount offered, he would contact communities and local government secretary Hazel Blears to see if she could exert any pressure. Waveney's overview and scrutiny committee is also poised to investigate the decision not to reveal the sum offered.

Opposition Labour group leader Sally Spore, who referred the matter to scrutiny members, said: “One of the reasons we have called it in is so we can ask questions of our legal team, and unless there are compelling reasons for it not to be in the public domain then we, as elected members, consider it should be. It is taxpayers' money, and should they not be made aware of how their money is being spent?”

Earlier investigations revealed the council had breached European legislation, which stipulates that any outlay on contracts of more than £144,371 should go through a tendering process where work is advertised and awarded on the basis of strict criteria.

During a subsequent probe, investigators could not find any documents relating to how the council first entered into the agreement with Kendric Ash, which has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Mrs Spore said she also wanted more background detail on the initial award of the contract and an update on how measures to prevent the problems arising again were proceeding.

Independent member Peter Collecott said: “Because it is public money, it should be in the public domain. It is something the council got itself into, and I don't see why it should try to bury it.”

Waveney council spokesman Phil Harris said: “Legal proceedings remain ongoing, so we are not in a position to discuss this publicly.” Council leader Mark Bee also declined to comment, and no one from Kendric Ash's new owners, Northgate Information Solutions, was available to speak.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter