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Friday, 21 February 2014

A Return to Veolia and Procurement

Returning to a comment from a post of a few days ago, asking about Veolia.  This drags up the campaign not to award contracts to Veolia.  Specifically the campaigners wanted to ban that company from bidding for the Public Realm Contract, which has now been awarded to them.

The whole campaign had a very 1980s feel.  When I first got involved in Brent Labour Party in the late 90s, Labour in Brent was still trying to live down the loony left reputation of the 1980s, when Brent Council would have long debates about foreign policy, but signally failed to get the Council to function.  That was a politically disastrous period which seems to have given a small number of activists a good time, but signally failed to help any of the people that the Council is supposed to serve.

The Public Realm contract was a complicated procurement that we had been thinking about for years.  By the time the OJEU notice was published in December 2012, a lot of work had gone into making sure that we had a genuinely competitive bidding process, not least in securing a depot for the contractor to operate from.  There were tight financial requirements, and we also wanted to be as effective as possible in a number of areas I have summarised here.  Key to the success of the project was sticking to the timetable so that arrangements could be in place to transition once the old contract expires on 31 March this year.

A number of campaigners, many of them usual suspects from previous campaigns, then threw in the suggestion that Veolia be banned from bidding.  By the time this was raised, any attempt to do so would have wrecked the implementation timetable, and almost certainly have resulted in legal action.  Our legal advice was that the case for banning a company from bidding on the basis of alleged activities in another country by a related company would be dubious.  Indeed banning companies for political reasons does not sit well with EU procurement rules at all.

The campaigners then changed tack, and suggested the Council extend the existing contract, and restart the entire process a bit later.  That is bizarre, as Veolia would be able to charge whatever price they liked for a contract extension (which also might be subject to challenge under procurement law), so the anti-Veolia campaigners were effectively arguing we should pay Veolia much more than we needed to.  It is also likely that re-opening the entire bidding process having just gone through it once would have put other companies off from bidding, making the whole process uncompetitive and virtually guaranteeing Veolia the business but probably with a much bigger profit margin than they actually have.

I think the campaigners simply don't understand the effects of what they demanded.

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