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Connaught inquiry calls dismissed

A Connaught  works van parked in Norwich; Connaught now have the maintaince contract with Norwich City Council taking over from City Care.; Photo: Jerry Daws; Copy:; For: EDP/EN; ©Archant Photographic 2010; 01603 772434

A Connaught works van parked in Norwich; Connaught now have the maintaince contract with Norwich City Council taking over from City Care.; Photo: Jerry Daws; Copy:; For: EDP/EN; ©Archant Photographic 2010; 01603 772434

©Archant Photographic 2010

Calls for an independent investigation into the process which led to Connaught being awarded contracts with Norwich City Council were last night rejected by Labour controlled City Hall.

The Liberal Democrats wanted the probe after the company awarded the £17.5m contract to fix council homes went into administration – leading to the loss of more than 300 jobs in Norwich.

But at the first public council meeting since the Connaught collapse, Labour leaders last night defended the process by which the contract was awarded.

They said instead of a probe, time would be better spent picking up the pieces to ensure services continued and jobs were safeguarded.

Judith Lubbock, Lib Dem councillor for Eaton, had said, in calling for the inquiry: “The collapse of Connaught has caused huge concern and hardship for those 320 staff who have lost their jobs.

“The collapse has also caused many questions to be asked about the procurement process itself.

“In order that there is public confidence in the council’s ability to let future contracts, the Lib Dems are asking that there be a full independent inquiry into the procurement process which led to the Connaught housing repair and maintenance contract.”

But Alan Waters, executive member for corporate resources and governance, said: “I think time would be better spent moving forward rather than trying to rewrite history and what the city will want is the repairs and maintenance service running smoothly and job opportunities for former Connaught workers as soon as possible.”

He pointed out Mrs Lubbock was involved in the cross party procurement process – the details of which were outlined in a 15 page document handed out at last night’s meeting.

In the face of criticism from the Lib Dems and some members of the Greens about why problems with Connaught were not picked up sooner, he added: “It doesn’t do service to the people of the city, or to the workforce we are trying to get back to work for people to be saying we did a shoddy job on this. We didn’t.

“We did the right thing, but there are some things that we out of our control. We are looking forward and not looking back.”

He said the collapse of Connaught was a national problem, not one created by the contract with Norwich and said the council was working through “a thicket” of legal issues to try to get a new contract in place – with negotiations with an un-named major contractor continuing.

While the calls for a public inquiry were dismissed, the council did agree a Conservative motion, amended by the Greens, for the issue to be looked at through its scrutiny committee.

The Greens also asked a string of questions through which it emerged that the council has had to spend £1.2m in letting a string of emergency contracts ahead of getting in place a new contractor in the longer term.

They also queried why the Connaught workforce did not have the right kit in place when the contract started, which Mr Waters said was partially due to the uncertainty created when Morrison sought an injunction to stop it being awarded – and was not connected to the collapse of Connaught earlier this month.

Administrator KPMG said it could not find a buyer to take over the work, although most of the other similar contracts with councils around the country were snapped up.

The council now faces re-letting contracts on an interim basis - for six to 12 months, while also trying to find a longer term solution, which could involve re-tendering the contracts - a process which could be lengthy and costly to City Hall.

Do you have a story about Connaught? Contact Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk.

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