A detailed scrutiny of how the Isle of Wight Council procured the troubled Floating Bridge 6 (FB6), will go before a committee next week.
One of the key conclusions in the report is that the procurement of FB6 was sound and there were no issues with procurement, tendering or contracts. Following numerous issues with the vessel in the nearly four years since it entered service, the Isle of Wight Council decided last year to take action against the shipbuilders and naval architects behind the scheme.
The latest update into where the situation stands with FB6 will be provided at a meeting of the corporate scrutiny committee next Tuesday (March 9) but council officers have set out the background to the procurement of the bridge.
Through tendering processes and site visits, the council were involved with buying and building the new bridge from 2014. Naval architects, Burness Corlett Three Quays (Southampton) Ltd, were awarded the contract to prepare outline designs, general arrangement and technical specification of FB6 in July 2015.
In the report, an ‘owner’s representative’, who would assist with planning, act as a liaison between the parties on the build, delivery and acceptance trials, as well as look at potential development opportunities was paid £40,000 for 80 days work.
The report explains how of the managing director of the King Harry Ferry (no name given), which connects St Mawes and the Roseland with Feock, Truro and Falmouth, was approved for this role in June 2015 at a cost of £40,000, as he had successfully undertaken a project to fund, design and build a replacement bridge for that service.
The contract to build FB6 was given to Mainstay Marine Solutions Ltd, in January 2016, as evaluators said they had ‘excellent facilities, capabilities, staff and suitable processes to ensure the delivery of the replacement floating bridge.’
Following a period last year where the vessel was out of action for 98 days, an expert report was apparently delayed due to the reluctance of one party to provide documents. The final expert report was received last month. Council leader, Dave Stewart, has continued to say legal action, through mediation, is ongoing but in his latest update said the process was delayed due to one party contracting Covid-19.
In the officers’ report, they say the council was ready to begin the litigation process in January but, if an agreement could not be reached at mediation, or if the parties were unwilling to enter mediation, the council would need to issue court proceedings.
The report concludes by asking the scrutiny committee to note there were ‘no issues with the approach taken to procurement, tendering and contracting’ and that they cannot delve deeper into the efforts made to resolve FB6’s challenges until the legal action is concluded.
Former council leader, Jonathan Bacon, issued a statement saying that the report cleared the administration he led from 2015-2017 of blame for the failures of Floating Bridge 6. He said: “As someone who has been subjected to continual brickbats from the current council about the Cowes Floating Bridge, I read the report with interest.
“I do note with concern that there is big gap in the report, in that it says nothing about the process of taking delivery of the Floating Bridge or putting it into service. After dealing with the contracting process, in paragraph 61, the report jumps straight to ‘Issues since entering Service’. It seems odd to me that this part of the history has not been dealt with in the report; however these are all matters that occurred under the current Conservative administration.
“I just hope that we can now get away from the continual arguments and accusations and as much effort can be put into the much more important process of securing a functioning and reliable service for the people who need it.”
In relation to the decision to appoint an ‘owners representative’ at a cost of £40,000 for eight days the report makes it clear that this was an officer decision following the procedures in place at the time. Mr Bacon added: “I would comment that this whole process is showing that there are problems with many council procedures and too much is being done in secret by officers without political oversight, or with knowledge of actions being restricted to a very few people. We should learn from this, rather than just playing blame games. Procedures could be better and more open and this is something that should be looked at by the next administration.”