Councils need to keep proper records of contractual decisions

East Devon District Council does like its private, non-note-taking meetings …

“A judge has issued a warning to contractual authorities that might be tempted to minimise the amount of paperwork they keep particularly where they fear that a high profile procurement exercise might be challenged. Helen Prandy reports.

In finding in EnergySolutions EU Limited v Nuclear Decommissioning Authority [2016] EWHC 1988 (TCC) that a contracting authority had made “conscious decisions” in relation to sparse record keeping a High Court judge noted that serious consideration appeared to have been given to restricting the keeping of contemporaneous records of evaluation because it was known that these would be disclosable in litigation.

The court took the view that if the evaluation process is performed in accordance with the obligations under the Regulations then they would present no danger to the Authority because they would constitute an ‘audit trail of the decision making’.

He also went on to find that a proposed destruction of notes relating to the evaluation was extremely worrying given the express obligations of transparency on public authorities under the Regulations.

In the absence of adequate contemporaneous documents a court is forced to rely on the recollection of witnesses. Documents may be embarrassing but the memory of witnesses is extremely unreliable and is just as likely to lead to an ‘embarrassing’ revelation. In this most recent case the witness most closely involved with the evaluation admitted on cross examination that he did not accept that inconsistency in evaluation of bids might amount to unequal treatment.

The judge found the almost complete absence of documents relating to a critical dialogue phase of the procurement and a reliance solely on the memory of witnesses to “verge on the incredible”.

The case arose under the 2006 Regulations and there is a requirement now under Regulation 84(8) of the 2015 Regulations to keep “sufficient documentation to justify decisions taken in all stages of the procurement procedure…” and to do so for a period of at least 3 years from the date of the award.

This case is not the first where a deliberate failure to keep documents has created problems for a contracting authority. However tempting it might be it is always far better to have a clear audit trail of reasons for evaluation decisions at every stage, including moderation, and for that audit trail to be in writing.”

NHS Property Services stitches up Dr Sytch’s Sidmouth surgery

“Plans to completely redevelop Sidmouth’s Blackmore Health Centre – adding new flats and a pharmacy – have left GPs fearing for its future.

Sid Valley Practice partners have been denied the chance to buy their town-centre building – taken over in 2013 – and say owner NHS Property Services (NHSPS) seems to be on a ‘commercial drive’ to squeeze profit from the site.

GPs say they are struggling to work in the rapidly deteriorating premises – branded ‘non-fit for purpose’ by the Care Quality Commission in July 2015. They have spoken of concerns that current proposals do not future-proof the site or leave any room to expand as the population grows.

The GPs remain ‘absolutely committed’ to retaining the town-centre surgery and are appealing for support from the community.

Doctors say the company responsible for managing NHS property has hiked up charges to the practice by around 50 per cent, despite so far failing to make the six-figure investment needed in the building.

An NHSPS spokesperson said the company is ‘committed to delivering improvements’ and recognises the concerns raised by GPs.

Dr Joe Stych, one of the practice partners, told the Herald: “The plan at the moment includes 10 residential flats on the squashed site. The implications of this will be quite large.

“A concern is that if the site is developed into flats and sold off, this facility would lose future expansion space available to the NHS as the town grows. Practice partners have been desperately trying to buy the building to protect it long-term, but have been turned down. Since NHSPS took ownership, costs passed on to the NHS and GPs for running this facility have increased to a level it may not be financially viable for the surgery to continue to practice there long-term.

“One of the big concerns for us is future-proofing the practice. The plans that are there do not future-proof the practice for the town in the short-term, let alone the long-term. “

The practice partners personally shouldered a £2.1million loan to build the new Beacon Medical Centre off Stowford Rise – and say they are ‘absolutely committed’ to retaining a town-centre surgery.

Dr Stych added that doctors do not feel their concerns are being listened to, so they have resorted to appealing for public support in efforts to safeguard the future of the Blackmore Drive surgery.

Chairman of the Sid Valley Patient Participation Group, Di Fuller, called for the community to get behind a campaign to save their surgery. She says the NHSPS is making it increasingly difficult for the practice, adding: “From a patient perspective, we already know there is a lot of anxiety in the town about the security of the Blackmore Surgery. Our anxiety is that, once it’s redeveloped, it will be great, but the rent they will demand will possibly make it unsustainable.

“At the moment, I understand that they are not planning to make the accommodation large enough for expansion, which is really cause for concern. They are trying to maximise profit and income from the property.

“We are a patient group that works hard to bridge the gap on behalf of patients, but we need the community to get behind us on this.”

East Devon’s MP Hugo Swire agreed it would it be ‘wholly inappropriate’ for people in Sidmouth to experience a reduction in healthcare provision. He said he will seek a meeting with relevant parties to discuss the future of Blackmore Health Centre.

A spokesperson for NHSPS said: “We are committed to delivering improvements to this surgery, including draft proposals for a scheme which could provide homes and a brand new surgery on the site.

“The GPs raised concerns about the car parking and we have revised the proposal, but discussions are continuing on this, or the option to refurbish.

“We clearly want to ensure the best possible outcome for the practice and local patients. We are listening to the GPs and fully recognise their concerns. We will continue to work with them to address these, including queries about their billing.”

(Re)location, (Re)location, (Re)location

Dorset has announced a decision to work towards mergers of its councils:

It does rather beg the question: what is to happen to West Dorset Council’s brand new HQ, built at a cost of more than £10 million?

It was always going to be a risky venture, when mergers and reorganisation were even at the time of the planned move being spoken of as a possibility.

To be fair to WDDC, their existing premises were very poor, very old and haphazardly arranged on three sites. They expected to sell the sites for £2.5 million, but in the end only achieved £1 million.

We do hope that our district council – in its desire to move to a spanking new set of offices in Honiton – has taken note of Dorset’s (un)intended consequences.

If such talks are abroad in Devon (which is already pretty much merging with Somerset if our Local Enterprise Partnership has its way) then it surely would be a dereliction of duty or even a misfeasance in office to consider such a move when it could be almost immediately redundant.

But, as in all important decisions in East Devon, we the residents will be the last to know what is being decided behind those closed doors in our names.

Cameron aides given massive pay rises before he left office

“David Cameron gave some of his special advisers bumper pay rises just months before they were given generous severance packages, it has been reported.

The former prime minister upped the salary of some of his advisers by as much as £18,000 – or up to 24%, according to an analysis by Civil Service World.

The double-digit hikes were ordered despite pay rises being capped at 1% across the public sector. Trade unions and taxpayer groups said the increases were “shameful” at a time when government departments have faced cuts. …

… Seven out of 10 of the Downing Street advisers reappointed after last year’s general election – and who therefore became entitled to bigger severance packages – received pay rises of up to 24% in 2015, according to Civil Service World. This far outstripped the 2% average pay award across the private sector in 2015.”

The huge pay rises also affected their redundancy packages, which were increased from four and a half months pay to six months:

We were NOT all in it together – only the cronies, many of whom also got gongs from Cameron (along with his friend Hugo Swire).