COUNCIL MEETING TONIGHT (weds 4th July) TOWN HALL 7PM START; ATTEND AND PROTEST
- Conflict of interest suspected in the bid process
- Officer in charge of bid process has links to evangelical church bidding
- Local gov procurement expert damns council’s process
- Calls for bid process to be restarted with greater transparency
- Legal action being prepared against council
In our last report, we scrutinised documents we were shown that outlined the process the council used for assessing the future of the Town Hall, in particular bids that would have ensured the building would have remained in community hands.
While we were looking through the documents, we were tipped off that there was another potential conflict of interest involving the officer advising on, and evaluating, the bids. This brings into question the neutrality of the bidding process – as well as the flawed methodology employed in the process we outlined in the previous article, a major breach of the procedure may have occurred.
One of the bidders, as we briefly mentioned in previous article, is a local evangelical church, which we shall not name for now. They are pretty much awash with money, having several rich backers and a tithe system that has allowed them to raise millions in funds to increase their property portfolio.
It is a member of the powerful Evangelical Alliance, a growing organisation of churches which, while doing a fair bit of good work at home and abroad, have a stridently homophobic attitude and advocate gay and lesbians ‘transform’ and join the church. They are quite a vocal bunch, and not fond of dissenting voices: organisations that advocate that gay love is, well, love, are thrown out of the organisation. But my personal views on this should not taint my oversight of the process, right?
What struck us about the leaked notes on this bid was how positive the evaluator judged the bid, in both language and willingness to take it forward.
Compare to the community bid
This is simply untrue. Yet if it wasn’t for getting sight of this leaked document, this would have been hidden from sight. Rendering a document non-public allows a multitude of sins.
Before we get to the information about why this might be so, and why the process looks subject to a conflict of interest, we were contacted by a procurement expert / Member of the Institute of Purchase and Supply who came across our campaign. She was horrified by what she saw
…really looks like the weightings prove that the council are favouring certain bidders which in my mind is unethical and against procurement guidelines…
…I am sure they will have broken more than one guideline. I recently had to back off an interview panel because I knew one of the candidates and I fail to see how someone with a personal interest in a bidder can form a major part in the assessment and awarding process.
(that bit will become clearer further down the page)
I know the govt depth I worked for would never have allowed such a shambles!
Is it just a lack of professionalism, or is something more sinister happening?
The aforementioned officer (who had control of the evaluation process and wrote the leaked report) is a key member of the church bidder’s sister church in Nottingham, a fellow member of the Evangelical Alliance. His family members are also personnel at the church, and he has conducted missionary work on their behalf.
We have strong evidence to suggest that the officer did not declare this potential conflict of interest and offer to be recused from the process. In not doing so, we believe his professional neutrality could not be guaranteed, and the process was thus inherently flawed.
More evidence to back this up comes from a further reading of the document. While the rules towards bids are applied stringently on the community bid, with no supporting evidence requested, extra time given, the church bid gets an unprecedented extension to its bid
We have not named the officer to avoid embarrassment to himself and his colleagues, and we hope that his failure to disclose this conflict of interest was an oversight, rather than a clear case of pushing through his personally preferred bid. Either way, we do feel that the process is invalid and the council should rethink the process from scratch, with much greater transparency and emphasis on retaining the building for public use. Flogging it to friends is not an option.
I am aware at least one party is ready to issue a legal challenge made via the Local Government Ombudsman and other routes if this is not the case and the council bundles through the report’s findings to be voted on by Full Council.
The Town Hall should represent the best of local democracy, a monument to transparency. Tonight we will find out if those who sit in it are worthy to do so.