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CITY TREES CONTRACT BOTCHED AND AXED - IN SECRET

25-05-2010

Birmingham trees

Bumbling officials at Birmingham City Council has been forced to re-tender the city’s £20 million a year trees maintenance contract – but won’t tell taxpayers how much it spent fighting a lengthy court case which forced it to scrap the last one...

As The Stirrer reported in March 2009, the contract was originally awarded to a company called Fountains – but a rival, Central Trees, cried foul.

They claimed that Fountains wasn’t a member of a trade association – which was one of the stipulations laid down by the Council.

We were originally told the issue would be settled “in a few weeks”, but six months later it was being discussed – in secret – by the city’s Cabinet.

Whenever we’ve made enquiries since, we’ve been fobbed off with the argument that no information can be put into the public domain because it might jeopardise the ongoing court case.

Well, here we are, 14 months after the story first broke, and we’ve finally established that the legal battle is over.

So can we expect full disclosure now the case is done and dusted? As if.

A Council statement simply says: “ The case with Central Trees was settled out of court – the details are subject to confidentiality.”

Gee thanks, guys. Anyone would think taxpayers have a right to know how much of their cash has been wasted – especially at a time when jobs are being threatened by savage cuts.

The rest of the statement is, however, illuminating – albeit in an indirect way.

It says, “We are currently going through a re-procurement process and the deadline for tenders is next month.

”This is for a five-year contract and, following completion of the Highways PFI deal, is for the non highways tree contract.

”We hope to complete the process some time in September.

”In the meantime the existing tree maintenance contracts have been extended to ensure an ongoing service.”

So what can we deduce from this?

The most obvious conclusion is that the Council did, indeed botch the original deal – and has now had to spend tens of thousands of pounds to Central Trees by way of compensation.

It will also have spent thousands more on legal fees trying to defend its original mistake.

We might also deduce that no senior manager has been dismissed or disciplined for their costly failure – for if they had been, surely the Council would have told us.

In any event, this is a double whammy for the people Birmingham; they have a Council that can’t handle a simple tendering process, and which doesn’t have the decency to let taxpayers know how much their incompetence has cost either.

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