The recent transparency ruling which ordered the redacted information to be disclosed has significant implications for other UK public contracts. Similar cases regarding waste contracts in Worcestershire and Derbyshire have been watching for the Gloucestershire result. The Tribunal judgement stated: “In our view there was a significant public interest in the disclosure of the entire Contract, in the interests both of transparency and accountability, ie to enable the public to be informed as to exactly what the Council had agreed on their behalf and its long-term consequences and to hold it properly accountable, in particular through Council elections.”
The ruling also warns that “Any potential contractor seeking to do business throughout the EU must be well aware of the duties of public authorities in relation to environmental information.” Exemption from disclosure under “commercial confidentiality” was dismissed by the judge for almost all of the redactions.
Environmental Law Foundation and independent procurement experts have examined the complex deal to find it may be in breach of competition law, and will also cost the County more than all reasonable alternatives. A complaint has already been submitted to the Competitions and Markets Authority on behalf of Community R4C, and now the full report will be sent to the County Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton requesting a full investigation.
Contrary to Gloucestershire County Council’s public communications, the disclosed figures show the incinerator will cost around £4.26m per annum more than using already available waste processing in the region, meaning the council would actually save money by cancelling now.
The report’s conclusions have important implications for public/private contracting across the UK, especially in the waste sector where flexibility will be increasingly important as new technologies emerge. The report indicates that value for money is not compatible with such large-scale, long-term PFI deals.
Tom Jarman and Sue Oppenheimer, co-founders of Community R4C, commented: “The Council should request an immediate halt to construction to minimise liabilities while a full investigation takes place into both the legality of the contract and the Value for Money findings in this report. Given that the court ruling identifies GCC’s representative as ‘rather partisan’, this investigation should be made by an independent party. We urge the Council to cancel the contract now in favour of more flexible options which will save money immediately. We also urge Councils and contractors across the UK to take heed of what has happened here and ensure it is not repeated.”