I said to the assembled panel “Should the public be able to see easily where and on what the 51m group’s money (that’s our money) is being spent.” In response, Cllr Tett said very clearly “the breakdown of that I can make available” with no qualification about this being only the BCC slice nor indeed that this would be limited by merely complying with the law on disclosure. (The online recording by BBC Three Counties Radio of that meeting is no longer available but I am sure could be accessed if needs be.)
However, the breakdown has not been made available by him, so I have been using FoI to discover some interesting facts...
First here is a description of the group taken from their website:
’51m’ is an alliance of councils that has come together to challenge the evidence base about the HS2 project. They are known as “51m” because that represents how much HS2 will cost each and every Parliamentary Constituency…£51million
There is a list of the councils which have 'come together' on this page. You might be forgiven for thinking (as I did) that each of the councils would have all pitched in to support 51m financially. You might even have thought that they would have made equal or perhaps pro rata (depending on the size of the council) contributions.
This is not the case. Some councils have paid nothing in while others have paid far more than most others. 19 councils are listed. The total sum donated/spent is £872,000 (rounded to nearest thousand). So of every council had donated an equal share, they would each have paid about £45,000. Here is the list of what they have actually contributed over the last two years of 51m's existence:
It would seem evident that Mr Stokes knows his stuff! However... what do the taxpayers of the contributing local authorities think about that amount of money being paid to a single individual without any competitive tendering, I wonder?
But a far bigger amount has been paid out:
£389,502.04 has been paid to Harrison Grant Solicitors. Although legal services are a ‘Part B’ service which means they are exempt from OJEU advertising, I asked about where the awarded contract was published. I was told "the contract was published on the South East Business Portal. The estimated value published was £130,000 at that time". So the contract has more than trebled since it was first let.
I did some more digging. I wanted to know how they were procured. I asked:
Where did you advertise the initial tender? How many organisations responded? Which other organisations were unsuccessful? By what specific criteria were the various bids appraised? What questions were the tenderers asked in the interview? Why have you chosen not to retender given that the initial contract was for £130k and is now three times that amount? What contract management arrangements are in hand?
- Three existing suppliers were invited to tender (I therefore assume there was no public invitation)
- They each submitted an expression of interest (in other words not a full proposal)
- No formal interviews were held (was this a paper exercise only? Is that a good way to spend nearly £400k of taxpayers' money?)
- The three bids were merely 'appraised' by the in house legal teams (no mention of what the specific criteria were..)