Contract for loo criticised

By Chris Cornford Jan 24, 2021

A town councillor has claimed a lack of transparency 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 needing to be resolved before building work can start.

However, Cllr Colm Watling, a member of VTC, has criticised the way in which the public body has found a contractor to build the toilets. Three preferred companies have been invited to quote for the work, without advertising the contract to attract a wider range of bids.
Cllr Watling, however, argues that all public procurement 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 one town councillor had approached him about the issue. “This is public money being used,” he said. “VTC are asking for additional support from the Isle of Wight Council and there is public mistrust surrounding the procurement process used.
“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 — with open meetings and published minutes and claimed Cllr Watling had “a bee in his bonnet”. He said the town council had taken two legal opinions, and had been assured the process was open, transparent and legal.
He added: “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.”
The contract has not been awarded yet until final issues are resolved but the preferred contractor, VTC has said, is D N Associates.