Thursday, 31 December 2015

Bins and hypocrisy

Back in March, when the Plaid group were in opposition, they were quick to highlight the perils of outsourcing, specifically in reference to the council's arms length waste management company, Cwm Environmental which had come under fire over it's long hours/minimum wage terms of employment.

A Plaid spokesperson said;
'the obsession of the Labour council with effectively outsourcing services and reducing democratic oversight inevitably reduces the operational control the council has over our public services'

Now that Plaid are 'in power' they seem to have abandoned this principled stand and are embracing the current trend to outsource various services to arms length companies, trusts and organisations with vigour. Or perhaps they're just following orders. Affordable Housing, Social Care and Leisure are all at various stages of offloading with tenders for consultants, soft marketing exercises, etc etc. all well underway and up for grabs with plenty more in the pipeline.

Aside from the inherent risks of the lack of democratic control, and the last councillor on the Board of Directors of Cwm Environmental Ltd was declared superfluous to requirements a couple of years ago, there can be legal minefields.

Back in June councillors at a meeting of the environment scrutiny committee were surprised to learn that the council's contract with Cwm Environmental Ltd had been informally extended for another three years after the 15 year contract expired three months earlier.

The risk of legal challenge from other potential providers (this informal three year 'arrangement' was worth over £7m) was dealt with by quietly changing the Council's Procurement Policy, and the job specification of the Director of Environment had to be altered to avoid conflicts of interest during any eventual tender.

All a bit of a legal minefield as I said but despite councillors expressing disquiet that they were being asked to approve something that had already been done and dusted, they nodded it through. Bins still had to be emptied of course.

Possible changes to Welsh Government waste policy were cited as an excuse for there being no proper procurement programme in place in time for the renewed contract but the real issue seemed to be this legal problem of having, by law, to advertise the contract and treat all potential suppliers fairly and objectively whilst wholly owning the current contractor, who, along with one small company in Llangadog, manages all the municipal waste, and waste sites, in the county.

Queries over the vanishing procurement exercise cropped up again at another scrutiny meeting earlier this month (December) and councillors were fed another helping of meaningless flannel;
"a significant amount of work had been undertaken to date, especially in conjunction with the Authority’s Legal Services. Whilst no further details could be disclosed at this stage, the interim contract with Cwm Environmental was still in place and he assured members that progress was being made with respect to scoping and preparatory work to provide valuable information to inform the debate with regard to the best solution for the future."

It sounds to me as if the minefield is currently alive and well and should, along with all the other issues involved in the lack of democratic oversight, with which our Plaid leaders were once so concerned, sound warning bells for future outsourcing experiments, wholly owned by the council or otherwise.

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