Monday, 19 December 2016

Tender troubles

One issue which has been troubling our council in recent years has been the problem of how to put the recycling service out to the required tender when, aside from a private operator in Llangadog, the service is run by its own arms-length company, Cwm Environmental.

The waste and recycling service five year contract expired a couple of years ago but with confusion and complications over conducting a fair tendering process, the contract with Cwm was extended 'informally' for three years. This was retrospectively approved by councillors and fortunately for them, wasn't challenged by potential bidders given that the three year extension was worth several million quid.

Further issues then arose with the conflicting role of the Director of Environment who would be overseeing the bidding process at the same time as having roles and responsibilities with the governance of Cwm. The Director's role had to be amended, temporarily, so as to be legally impartial in the bidding process. How this was achieved is not clear, perhaps the Directors responsibilities no longer involve Cwm. There is precious little scrutiny or democratic oversight of Cwm, and quite possibly even less now.

Moving forward, a soft marketing exercise was carried out to invite expressions of interest, cost, as usual, unknown.

Clearly, ensuring that no bidder gets an unfair advantage is one of the problems with arms-length companies, and the council is looking to do the same, or similar, with leisure, housing, and social care. Of course, they could just try and do it through the back door, but with the disastrous, illegal, and now abandoned catering tender for Pembrey Country Park, it's probably not the best option.

What exactly would happen if Cwm happened to be unsuccessful in bidding for the contract are not known, especially given that the company's considerable assets are technically owned by the public. Or that's how I understand it with a company wholly owned by the council.

However, the problem is not just causing a prolonged scratching of heads, it seems to be costing a small fortune as well.

A report to scrutiny last week provides some detail, though not the figures of course. A Project Board of senior management has been set up to oversee the process, and a dedicated project manager, along with external legal, financial and technical experts are all being appointed...cost, again, unknown.

The report also states that given the complexities associated with owning Cwm, which include employment issues, the external legal and financial advisors may well find that the current process needs to be 'reviewed' or, in simple terms..sent back to the drawing board. Oh dear.
Another shambles in the making.

Whilst I'm here don't forget that budget time is approaching and the council have an online consultation running until the 8th January. Out of £25m cuts over the next three years just under half the 'savings', £11.2m, are planned to be cut from education. A £3.4m cut this year is likely to equate to the loss of 60 teaching jobs.

The online consultation states that if this cut isn't made your council tax will go up by 14.6%. A scary figure designed to send most people reaching for the 'agree' button. In reality I would question the wisdom of the council putting so many efficiency eggs in one basket, a very risky move, let alone the potentially devastating effect on your child's education.

The budget will be decided in February, and by then the May local election campaigning will be well underway. So look out for those pre-election u-turns and planted red herrings which will creep back in once the 'new' administration settles in for the next term of office.

With the focus on cuts, Plaid blaming the Labour Welsh Government, and Labour blaming the Tories in Westminster, what the council is actually spending your money on remains something of a mystery as, unlike English councils, those itemised spending figures are not released. Clearly even the tendering process for recycling is straining the finances, let alone the drip-drip feed to the 'visionary' and 'trailblazing' Wellness Shed, or 'luxury spa' as it's otherwise known.... Armchair auditors out there need the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. A disproportionately overstuffed legal department and press office might be a good place to start, along with our astonishingly overpaid chief executive....

Anyway, more on the budget, and other council matters, in due course.


Elderly Neil. said...

If the public of Carmarthenshire don't pick up on your latest blog
and see for themselves the mire that Carm s Council have got themselves
into they have themselves to blame.Surely one of the first cuts should be on the cost of pursuing the charge on your house Jacqui or are they going after that as their first priority.

Sian Caiach said...

Cwm Environmental keeps on being mentioned in dispatches by some councillors and a few trade unionists as a body suspected of not being entirely run correctly and possibly being very financially innovative, and not necessarily for the good o the public purse. It is now some years since an electeded Councillor member sat on its board. Disturbingly, I have recently had a conversation with someone who has some seniority within the council who mentioned Cwm in rather unflattering terms and clearly regarded the organisation as corrupt.

I'm afraid I seem to spend a lot of time chasing up accusations of suspected wrongdoing within or associated with the council. I'm very interested in Cwm Environmental. Anyone with information is free to pass on the details to me confidentially. Please use my private accounts or rather than my offical county councillor account.

The current leadership of CCC are planning to set up another arms length company to take over social care provision after the forthcoming elections next May.If the present political and officer makeup is retained, it is likely to go through. Personally I would like to know if any lessons need to be learned fast from our experience with Cwm !!