To consider the attached report.
The Service Manager (Housing Management & Home Ownership), D Fenton introduced the report on the update of the accommodation project. She noted that the project work was going well, the council had awarded a contract to ISG Fit Out Ltd. to refurbish the office building and they were now on site starting their work. The project remained on time to be completed early next year. The contract for fixtures and fittings would be awarded soon.
The Accommodation Programme Board meets monthly to oversee the delivery of the programme and covered the following workstreams:
The report on the agenda noted the progress made across the six project areas and the corporate plan provided key milestones for the full year 2020/21.
Councillor Brady commented on the travel plan referred to in the report. She noted that nowadays it would be difficult to get people to use public transport and noted that the use of cars had gone up compared to pre Covid times. This worried her if the number of parking spaces would be reduced. Had this been considered? D Fenton said that this was reviewed on an ongoing basis. There was now a lot of people working from home, and were comfortable working from home, so the desk to officer ratio had been reduced from 6 to 10, to 4 to 10, and there would be a lot less people driving in.
Councillor Brady went on to comment on the paragraph on furniture, fixtures and fittings and noted that collaborative workspaces were not a good idea now. D Fenton replied that there would still be room for social distancing in the new set up. Officers would carry out a risk assessment in January and there would be a lot of people still working from home.
Councillor Brady then asked about the air conditioning system spreading germs. D Fenton said that all fans and the air conditioning were not allowed to be switched on as they were seen to be a Health and Safety risk.
Councillor Neville asked when would the travel plan be put into practice, January or before? H was told that it would be January or February when officers moved back into the building.
Councillor Neville then asked what type of gas would be used in the air conditioning system. D Fenton did not have an answer with and said she would put something in the minutes.
Councillor Jon Whitehouse asked which partners were we in discussion with? He was told that there were several potential partners such as Citizens Advice, libraries and Voluntary Action. They were still in the early stages in the discussions with them. A desk ratio of 4 to 10 would allow us to have more space for our partners. If it was helpful, she could provide a statistical update around this area at the next meeting
Councillor Whitehouse asked that for the commercially let space, was the intention to have lots of individual leases with businesses or lease it to a big provider who would then sub-let it out. He was told that the understanding was to have individual leases.
Councillor Murray was glad to hear that discussions were going on with potential partners. Had these discussions enabled them to influence this project as they all would have individual needs and requirements. D Fenton said that this was an ongoing piece of work, we had discussion with them on what they needed and what they could afford as we were still in the planning stages.
Councillor Murray expressed his surprised that this committee was happy that the contract had been awarded to just one tenderer. This committee should be scrutinising this more deeply. He noted that six expressions of interest had been received but only one company put in a bid. He was very unhappy that we had let this contract on the basis of one tender. Although he accepted that we had a detailed report from a consultant about this, he thought that this select committee should be putting on record that they were not happy with the way this was awarded.
The Chairman noted that this had been discussed at a previous Cabinet meeting and there was some disquiet about this raised then.
Councillor Neville said that he was at that Cabinet meeting, and that it was not usual practice to accept just one tender and he was unhappy about it. He did ask at the time why only one tender was put in; he was told that official processes had been carried out but did not receive a full answer. He did not think that things like this should happen on a regular basis as it was a lot of money and was not good practice.
Councillor Rackham commented that we needed to look at these things moving forward. As we had only got one tender then it would be difficult for us to choose a different one, however ‘we are where we are’. It was something to investigate to stop it happening again. A valid point was made and as a select committee we would need to look out for this sort of thing in the future.
Councillor Jon Whitehouse said that he had expressed his concerns at Cabinet. It should be noted that the Cabinet made the decision and not officers. He agreed that this committee should note its concern, given the size and importance of the contract.
Councillor S Kane asked from the Cabinet perspective, if it would be helpful if an officer could remind the committee of the number of initial enquires we had and how many progressed forward before we ended up with a ‘Hobson’s choice’ of one. A Small told him that six expressions of interest had been received that ultimately came down to just one bid. We recognised that we would have preferred more to get best value, but in the absence of having more bids we benchmarked the cost submitted by an independent cost consultant and were assured that these costs were fair.
Councillor S Kane went on to make the point that there were also time constraints and if they went out to tender again, they would have to extend the project timeline by a number of months. They were faced with a difficult decision to make, it was not good practice, but faced with the alternative of extended delays to go back out to tender and maybe end up again with only one bid, the Cabinet made the decision to move forward with this well assessed bid.
Councillor Bolton asked if there were any comments on how they could improve the methods of pre-scrutiny.
Councillor Dorrell noted that the only meeting taking place at that time was the Cabinet meetings because of the lock down and was not sure it would go through that process that far and that fast again. But they needed to ensure that that they pre-scrutinised things like this the next time, before Cabinet made their decision.
Councillor Jon Whitehouse noted that it was more productive to make comments before things went wrong or issues arose than afterwards. It was part of this committee’s responsibility to say what was important to them and that that they wanted full reports on whatever issue they considered important and deep dive into certain potential area of concern. It was also important that this committee did not just nod and note reports but to make comments and have them reported to the Cabinet.
That the Committee noted the update on the Accommodation Project.