A councillor has hit out at a lack of transparency and openness surrounding Ventnor’s new public toilet — but the mayor says that is not the case.
Ventnor Town Council (VTC) is in the final stages of agreeing a new £150,000 toilet in the Central Car Park with a parking space issue with the Isle of Wight Council needing to be resolved before building work can start.
Despite the progress, however, Councillor Colm Watling, a member of VTC, has criticised the way in which the public body has found a contractor to build the toilets.
Companies have been invited to bid for the work. In some cases, public authorities advertise the contract through an online contract finder, which attracts a wider range of bids. In the case of the toilets, VTC asked 3 preferred bidders to provide quotes, the same way they had procured work at Salisbury Gardens.
Cllr Watling, however, argues policies laid out by government says all public procurement must be based on value for money and it should be achieved through competition unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. He said:
“The contract could have been advertised. It should have been advertised. It was not advertised.
“The environment, local jobs and running costs should have been taken into account — they weren’t. Why is that?
“Why would [VTC] proceed with the lowest of three quotes in the face of opposition, when it could advertise and procure on the basis of fairness transparency, and take into account the environment, social value and lifecycle cost? The Isle of Wight Council do, other town councils do.
“I have been trying to get VTC to understand the rules of procurement for a year, and they have defended themselves to the point of absurdity at every opportunity.”
Isle of Wight Councillor for Ventnor West, Cllr Gary Peace, said more than 1 town councillor had approached him about the concerns raised. He said:
“This is public money being used. VTC are asking for additional support from the Isle of Wight Council and there is public mistrust surrounding the procurement process used.
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“I fully support Ventnor and any regeneration opportunities available to the town and its residents and I will continue to support VTC in its endeavours. But this support is contingent on proper process and financial transparency.”
Mayor of Ventnor, Cllr Stewart Blackmore, however, said the process has been open and transparent ever since the project was proposed and throughout its progression — with open meetings and published minutes.
Cllr Blackmore said Cllr Watling had a bee in his bonnet over the procurement process and he was entitled to his own opinion, but Cllr Blackmore was entirely happy with the decision.
“We at Ventnor are very aware of our duty to the public and our due diligence process so we took two sets of legal opinions, one from the Hampshire Association of Local Councils (HALC) and our own solicitors on the process we were about to undertake, ensuring it was completely open, transparent and legal. We were assured by both parties that that was the case.
“Cllr Watling thinks we should have advertised it and invited tenders, that is not how we did it.
“When we did Salisbury Gardens a few years ago we had a list of preferred bidders all out there in the open, all good standing, and that was how we approached the offering of the project to a builder.
“You can see in the minutes Cllr Watling has never voted against any of this at any stage but he seems to think we should cancel the project and start again.
“We are not prepared to do that two years down the line. This is something we need for our public and something, I think, the public will welcome.
“The funding was put into our 2020 budget so there is no impact at all on the precept for the coming year.”
Legal advice given to VTC from HALC said the council is not required to publish details on the Contracts Finder website if they intend to make the opportunity only available to particular contractors.
The contract has not been awarded yet as final issues are resolved but the preferred contractor, VTC has said, is D N Associates.