It has been reported to the Shepwayvox Team from both internal and external sources that Shepway District Council’s policy and procedures as laid down in their contract standing orders may well have been breached regarding contracts given for Princes Parade (pictured)
Why do you have policies and procedures? Simple, so that all those in an organisation follow them. It appears that certain members of staff at Shepway District Council (SDC) appear to believe that they may well need not follow the policies and procedures agreed by the democractically elected members of SDC.
We the Shepwayvox Team fail to see how the below safeguards SDC’s reputation from any implication of dishonesty or corruption.
According to a response provided by SDC in an Environmental Information Request, and from sources deeply concerned within the building, it’s clear that email exchanges relevant to Princes Parade have taken place between tibbalds and Shepway Officers using personal (non-Shepway) email addresses. (The use of private email accounts instead of departmental accounts for the conduct of official business is a matter of deep concern to the ICO for a number of reasons. Adherence to good records management practice should be encouraged to promote data security, to preserve the integrity of the public record and to ensure effective compliance with access to information obligations) Also that these communications, it has been reported, led to a large £91,000 contract being placed preferentially with Tibbalds, by-passing formal tendering as per the contract standing orders procedures.
The waiver of normal contract standing orders was authorised by a senior officer. This means that the contract was not advertised publicly as would normally be the case. Instead companies were selected to provide tenders. It is not clear how these companies were selected.
In 2016/17, the council waived the normal contract standing orders on seventeen occasions
In early January Jan 2016 contact between Andy Jarrett, (pictured) Head of Strategic Development Projects at SDC and Tibbalds was made through the former’s official Shepway email address. Later that month it is reported in the request response that Andy Jarrett met Tibbalds for the first time, according to information provided under the Environment Information Regulations.
On the 28 Jan 2016 – Tibbalds provided a fee quote (for Planning Application Services regarding Princes Parade). There is no evidence of any specification having been issued by SDC to seek that quote, suggesting that the work required was proposed by Tibbalds following the discussion 3 days earlier (25/01/16).
10 Feb 2016 Andy Jarrett advised Tibbalds that their quote looked fine but their appointment was being held up by legal issues on another site. (This is known to relate to SDC’s Hythe Green planning application for a recreation centre).
On the 25 Feb 2016 – Dave Shore advised Tibbalds that he hoped to be able to formally confirm their appointment shortly after sorting out one or two internal processes. In the meantime Tibbalds were advised to pencil in a date for the “inception meeting” with 5th or 6th Mar being suggested. He also sought Tibbalds recommendation for a possible Environmental Impact Assessment consultant (a key role).
On the 14 Mar 2016, at 3.30 pm – Tibbalds had a meeting at SDC, at which a verbal description of the required work and the go-ahead were given for a separate short Capacity Options study to be completed by the weekend.
14 Mar 2016, 20.45 pm – Tibbalds sent an email quoting a fee of £2,500 for an initial Capacity Options study to be prepared for the 13 Apr 2016 Cabinet meeting and confirmed that the work could be completed within the same week. Tibbalds also advised that they would update their previous quote to include coordination of EIA consultant work and write a socio economic chapter.
Tibbalds also suggested the need for a quote for master-planning and offered to provide a quote for that as needed for an outline application. The same evening (21.15 pm) Andy Jarrett replied:
“I would be pleased to receive a fee proposal from you including the masterplanning it needs to form part of the main proposal, trust that is OK”
15 Mar 2016 – Dave Shore made it known that Tibbalds had been “engaged as Planning Consultant for an application for planning permission for Princes Parade”
20 Mar 2016 – Andy Jarrett, acting both as requesting officer and authorising officer, raised a Waiver request to dispense with SDC’s Contract Standing Orders (CSO) and appoint Tibbalds without conducting a competitive tender for a £91,000 contract for Planning Application Services. The reason given for waiving CSOs was “in order to meet the aspirations of Cabinet for a Planning Application to be submitted by Sumer 2016.” Clearly this was an unachievable goal, made even more impossible since Tibbalds had no prior knowledge of the complexities of the site and were starting from scratch. The supporting text of the Waiver failed to give any reason for the specific choice of Tibbalds. The skill set demanded for the job was not unique and details of any other contractors considered should have been provided with reasons why Tibbalds were preferred. Section 3 of the Waiver states, as the only reason for non-competitive action, that discussion have taken place with Tibbalds “to ensure they are able to deliver within the timescale proposed”. Not only is that statement nonsense, it did not make the case for choosing a pre-decided particular contractor. Nor was a Risk Assessment prepared and lodged on the contract file, as required by CSO 3.8.
11 Apr 2016 – The Waiver was approved by the Monitoring Officer and the Head of Finance but not by a relevant Head of Service nor by Procurement. In view of the size of this proposed contract and the fact that single tender action was being sought, a more robust authorisation process should have been undertaken with a clear audit trail. Greater transparency of the full history and current status should have been recorded on file, i.e. making it clear that the contractor had in effect already been appointed, also regarding the intention to place a closely related contract that was likely to be let to Tibbalds.
13 Apr 2016 – Cabinet meeting approved that Planning Application preparation could proceed based upon the Tibbalds £2.5K Capacity Options study (as mentioned above). The proposed Planning Application together with detailed supporting reports, Including viability, costs and comparison with Martello Lakes, was required to be made available to Cabinet in Nov 2016.
18 Apr 2016 – The inception meeting was held with Tibbalds to define the programme for the £91,000 Planning Application contract.
29 Apr 2016 – Tender documents were issued to 5 selected companies for a second contract (Master-planning and Architectural Services) as had been suggested by Tibbalds on 14 March. This was principally masterplanning, and an integral part of the Planning Application preparation and an extension of Tibbalds Capacity Options work undertaken in March. The method by which the tender was issued to the companies is unknown but it was not widely publicised, such as on the Kent Business Portal nor on Contracts Finder, as would normally be expected for a contract of this size (CSO 7.4 applies to all contract in excess of £25K).
In accordance with Part 4 of the Public Contract Regulations 2015 and guidance, issued by the Cabinet Office:
a) All contract opportunities with a value of £25,000 and above must be published on ‘Contracts Finder’ where the Council has advertised such opportunity in the form of a notice or advertisement;
This tender is not subject to the above Waiver and should therefore have been advertised widely. The other 4 companies to whom the tender was issued were known to be weaker contenders, being principally architecturally based. Also Tibbalds had been given the opportunity to quote and write the specification for the tender, giving them a substantial, unfair advantage.
13 May 2016 – Return date for the master-planning tender submission. There were 3 bidders including Tiabbalds.
20 May 2016 – Tibbalds were appointed as the winner of the master-planning contract, value £98,837.
3 Aug 2016 – Formal Contract issued for £98.800 contract (Master-planning & Architectural Professional Services related to the preparation and Submission of a Planning Application for Princes Parade). The specification for the work to be carried out was written by Tibbalds.
19 Mar 2017 – The work specified under both of the main contracts remains uncompleted; the urgency with which the £91K contract was issued has not been justified; no reports have been made available to show that the project is viable, as required by Cabinet; there is no project plan showing the milestones leading up to completion of the leisure centre; Purchase Orders have been raised on Tibbalds totalling £199K, with payments having been made of £182K (ex VAT), indicating that contract extensions will become inevitable. While it is accepted that matters such as viability and costs were not strictly relevant to the Tibbalds contracts, they are however key elements that remain to be addressed within the overall project and do not appear to be addressed elsewhere in the programme. Any extension to either of the main Tibbalds contracts needs to be justified in advance to avoid irrecoverable expenditure in the event of project failure; considerable doubt still exists concerning viability, cost and timescale for the Princes Parade project. This rate of expenditure on the contracts is that the Planning Application needs to be brought under tighter control. It is known that the £500K budget was a top level (superficial) estimate and there is a significant likelihood that there will be a substantial overspend on the Princes Parade project that could well turn out to be non-viable. Any extension to either Tibbalds contract will inevitably breach the £100K threshold that would have required it to be executed as a Deed. Further, it is clear that the Tibbalds work should not have been split into 2 separate contracts. It should also be noted that the OJEU threshold is £164,176.
There is plausible evidence to raise a level of doubt that on the balance of probabilities policies and procedures were not adhered to. Also it appears that Andy Jarrett, was still self employed and working for his own company Better Places up until 01/07/2016 according to his website.
So who was Andy Jarrett working for, as we can see he was engaged to do work for SDC from Feb 2016 to July 2016 and beyond? SDC, his own company; which applied for a strike off on the 30 August 2016. Was he working as a consultant to SDC while still working for his own company? If so, what sort of employment arrangement did he have. It is very unclear.
Also the selection of Tibbalds was inapproariate as a contractor as it would appear they had been given preferential information and treatment not afforded to other potential contractors; which if found to be true could leave SDC open to being sued by the other bidders.
The waivers given were inappropriate and may well have breached SDC’s own Contract Standing Orders.
The placement of a second contract to the same contractor could be considered inappropriate as it was Tibbalds who reportedly proposed the need for the second package of work on 14 Mar 2016 and were in a highly advantageous position. The intention to place the second contract was known before the Planning Application Services Waiver was prepared.
How often then might SDC breach it’s own Contract Standing Orders?
What other contracts awarded may have breached their Contract Standing Orders?
Why are SDC allowing private email addresses to be used, when it clearly breaches the ICO Code of Practice and compromises data security?
There are many other questions which need answering and the appropriate people are:
Solicitor/Monitoring Officer to the Council:
The chief executive of SDC
Leader of SDC
Finally, how does this safeguard SDC’s reputation from any implication of dishonesty or corruption?
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful