Barnet Council told to withdraw parking services tender or face EU Commission investigation

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman

Shameless expense claimant Barnet’s very own Brian Coleman, who became infamous for boasting that his council never knowingly undercharges for parking has been caught by Nutsville investigators illegally pushing through a lucrative contract deal.

In a forced through decision Brian Coleman has managed to breach Barnet Councils Constitution, break the Public Contract Regulations 2006 directly violate EU public procurement law leaving Barnet taxpayers facing having to pay more for their services than they do now.

Coleman was branded a bully boy by his own Tory backbenchers when last August he used delegated powers to continue using Paypoint’s Verrus subsidiary to provide a borough wide Pay-by-Phone service. (Download delegated powers report here) Concerns were raised by fellow Councillors that with all of the boroughs pay and display machines being ripped out there would be no adequate alternative for motorists who either could not or would not pay using a mobile phone and credit card.

But Coleman had never made a secret of his intention to follow Westminster Council’s lead by going down the cashless parking road when in October 2010 he said “We are going completely cashless. It’s a common sense modern approach to parking. It works perfectly well in Westminster”. Coleman is in such admiration of Westminster Council’s pay-by-phone cashless parking model that he’s even forced his council to use the same contractor as Westminster, Verrus.

Great fanfare was made about how going cashless would save Barnet taxpayers money. But by not seeking the best fees for its outsourced services it will end up costing taxpayers more, a lot more. Alarm bells sounded when Coleman sneaked the contract award through when many of Barnet’s councillors were on holiday.

In 2008 Barnet Council undertook a trial between two pay-by-phone companies just in their car parks. The costs involved were of minimal value so did not exceed the EU threshold to trigger a tendering exercise.  In 2009 Barnet decided they were going to go with Verrus and awarded them a low value contract in accordance with their procurement code. That contract was for two years, supposedly ending in March 2011. In June 2010 Barnet had rolled out pay-by-phone on to the streets of Barnet, making the contract more lucrative to Verrus.  But from around March this year payments from Barnet to Verrus really shot up as the Council took out more of its pay and display machines, leaving Verrus as the only game in town for motorists.

From March until August this year Barnet Council have paid Verrus more than £86,000, which would put their projected spend at over £200,000 expressly in violation of EU legislation and the EU threshold limit of £156,000. Brian Coleman must have been aware he was acting illegally as he even went against Barnet’s own Contract Procedure Rules (page 129 Table 5-2 Acceptance thresholds for contract extensions and variations Greater than £156,422 Authority must be sought).

You would have though that over two years would have been long enough for  Barnet Council to have done a proper legal fair tendering process for the Pay-by-Phone contract, unless they didn’t want to for some reason. Coleman even allowed Verrus to operate in Barnet without any contract in place as their original contract expired in March of this year (2011).

Now Coleman is tendering for a consortium to outsource the whole of the parking service, in the meantime allowing Verrus to continue invoicing Barnet until Coleman’s new super contract worth upwards of £25M is awarded. The new super contract described as a framework contract is asking for a group of up to five operators to form a consortium with one operator acting as lead operator dealing directly with Barnet Council.

The problem with tendering for a consortium instead of say putting out individual services as lots, is that it favours just one economic operator, Verrus. Other pay-by-phone providers don’t have relationships with parking enforcement contractors such as NSL for example, who just happen to provide parking enforcement for Westminster Council, along side Verrus.

Questions need to be asked as to why Brian Coleman is favouring this particular provider. Nutsville understands this matter is to be brought to the attention of the District Auditor and the Efficiency Reform Group of the Cabinet Office formerly the Office of Government Commerce.

The OJEU tender notice 2011/S 67-109281 published on 4th April 2011 for the outsourced parking services is in direct violation of EU public procurement law and Nutsville understands if this notice is not cancelled a complaint will be lodged with the EU Commission.

What Coleman should have done to avoid being caught with his pants round his ankles is to have tendered for a pay-by-phone provider under the normal EU process and then done a separate tendering exercise for the parking enforcement contract.


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1 Comment

Mrs Angry, Broken Barnet blogSeptember 30th, 2011 at 9:37 pm

great story nutsville, yet another contract balls up by Barnet Council? Who would have thought it?
The frightening thing is that a billion pounds worth of business has been put up for grabs now by the same council: a frightening prospect.

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