Friday, May 27, 2011

Dundee House Furniture Contract concerns

As reported in yesterday's Evening Telegraph and today's Courier, I have expressed concern at the City Council’s expenditure of £567 297 on office furniture for the new Dundee House, particularly in relation to the way in which the expenditure has been approved in a wholly unsatisfactory way, lacking in openness and transparency.

On numerous occasions over many months at the Dundee House Project Board, I have expressed  concerns at the possibility of the council spending large sums of taxpayers’ money on furniture and I made it very clear that any decision on such expenditure should be brought to a council committee for debate and discussion before any expenditure took place.

I am furious about the way in which this contract has been decided – over half a million pounds decided by “convener’s approval” – a method of delegated approval because of “short timescales”.     The council has known it was moving into Dundee House for years – I simply don’t accept that the matter could not be brought to committee for a proper debate and discussion before this level of expenditure is made.

When council officers advised that this contract was to be authorised by the “Convener’s Approval” method, I requested that the Chief Executive bring the matter to an urgent meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee earlier this week, rather than what the officers were proposing (it simply being noted at a meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee in the middle of June, long after the contracts are signed and a 10 day ‘standstill period’ is over).    However, this request for discussion at Monday’s Committees was refused and the matter will be simply “noted” at committee meetings on 13th June.

I wrote to the Chief Executive on Monday as follows :

“I am very unhappy about the situation given the amount of expenditure & the fact that there will be absolutely no discussion of this until 13th June, by which time the 10 day standstill period will be over.   Officers regularly ask the Convener for approval to place items on committee agendas at extremely short notice – I’ve seen it where the first I knew about an item was when I saw it sitting on my desk in the council chamber.      

Far better that, however, than to rush it through under delegated powers then fail to report it to committee for three weeks.   It would have been good practice to bring it to committee tonight and I would have thought that was obvious.”

A full debate on the matter is important particularly given that 85% of the contract has been awarded to companies that are not Dundee-based;  the level of contract award to Dundee companies was just £87 750 out of £567 297.   

This is a very large contract of over £0.5 million and it would have been right and proper that there was a full discussion and debate over this expenditure coming at a time of such significant financial challenges facing the City Council.    The way this has been handled is highly unsatisfactory.

I have today sent a detailed list of questions about the tendering process to the Chief Executive and the Chief Architectural Services Officer.