Norwich City Council urged to give smaller Norfolk companies more contracts after Fountains collapse

City Hall should award the task of keeping Norwich tidy to smaller county companies after the demise of a major contractor, it was claimed last night.

More than 150 workers lost their jobs after the Fountains Group, based in Whiffler Road, Mile Cross, went into administration.

The Oxfordshire-based environmental management company had a �4.6m a year contract with Norwich City Council to clean streets and maintain parks. It also had a �3.3m annual deal to collect rubbish and recycling from thousands of homes.

The city council has found short-term help from Biffa and its own staff to maintain services.

And Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, said changes to how local authorities operated meant now was an ideal opportunity for county firms to be given more council work.

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The Liberal Democrat, who is planning a conference next month to discuss the future of these types of deals, said: 'We are spending a lot of public money in Norfolk on procurement, buying in services and goods from the private sector but all too often they are going to big companies.

'We've had two disasters in Norwich. It's not to say a big company fouls up but our focus should be on how we enable small and medium businesses in Norwich to compete and get a slice of the action.

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'If you are a locally based company you have a foothold in the community and perhaps more of a commitment to the community. I think it makes a lot of sense to try and use this public money to build a sustainable local economy.'

Rob Whitwood, vice-chairman of the North Norfolk branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said local authorities preferred to put several different jobs together, rather than splitting them up and seeking out smaller Norfolk firms to take on the responsibility.

He said: 'If councils take that work and break it into sensible projects there will be local businesses that can nail that one thing.'

Karl Bennett, director of RG Maintenance Services, a grounds maintenance and cleaning company based near Yaxham, said: 'When will the city council realise that big isn't beautiful, as the national companies such as Connaught and their underfunded replacement company Fountains cannot operate profitably?'

There have also been calls for the City Hall to run some services itself. But Alan Waters, deputy leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'People may say why can't we bring it in house? But the whole model is against it. This is a time when the government expects councils to shrink as organisations, not expand.'

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