Posts Tagged ‘public contracts’

Back to issues

May 8, 2010

It’s the day after elections, and despite the fact that my wife and daughter came out as the biggest winners it’s no time to rest. In all frankness I hate elections and I’m glad it’s finished, we can go back to think about real issues.

As I already wrote Lewisham Council is tendering a major contract for the running of most of our leisure centres. I write it here again to avoid it being buried under the electoral posts.

Because this is really important, it’s an opportunity that comes round only every few years, we must set up our local social enterprise to run the centres, just like other boroughs did. Local talents working for the local community and re-investing all receipts in our community assets.

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Lewisham Leisure mega-contract needs fresh re-thinking

May 5, 2010

Two contracts with leisure operators to run almost all the leisure centres of the borough are to expire soon and Lewisham Council is now advertising a major long term contract to run them all on a long term basis.

The London Borough of Lewisham is seeking a partner to enter into a contract to manage, operate and maintain a number of existing leisure facilities (“the existing facilities”) together with 2 possible new facilities (“the proposed facilities”). The existing facilities comprise of the following leisure facilities : The BridgeLeisure Centre and Indoor Bowls Hall (Kangley Bridge Road, Lower Sydenham, London SE26 5AQ, UNITED KINGDOM); Ladywell Leisure Centre (261 Lewisham High Street, London SE13 6NJ, UNITED KINGDOM); Wavelengths Leisure Centre (Giffin Street, Deptford, London SE8 4RJ, UNITED KINGDOM). The proposed facilities are Forest Hill Pools (Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3HZ, UNITED KINGDOM) designed to replace the formerForest Hill Pools on the same site, and a new leisure facility development at Loampit Vale designed to replace the existing Ladywell Leisure Centre.

The Council proposes to award a 10-15 year contract in relation to managing, operating and maintaining the Existing Facilities with options (exercisable by the Council during this term) to require the partner to manage, operate and maintain the Proposed Facilities (such additional requirements to be performed within the 10-15 year term). It is estimated that the services in respect of the Proposed Facilities (if the option is exercised) will commence in the second year of the 10-15 year term.

Having watched closely how the leisure centres work in Lewisham I can surely say that there is a need of a serious re-thinking before committing to something like this.

The way this works now is a complete muddle, with results like the legionella bacteria crisis, when following discovery of the bacteria in the showers at Ladywell these were shut down by the contractor following an order from the Council (but allegedly without the knowledge of the Cabinet Member for Community). The result of this decision was that people couldn’t shower before swimming and therefore the water of the pool was becoming infested with other equally harmful bacteria.

The root cause was of course neglect, and at the root of that lack of funding for repair and maintenance.

This is a unique opportunity to re-organize these services so that they are maintained to the level they should be. It is also an opportunity to involve the local sport talents and clubs and develop a long term plan of sport development for the borough to make use the current local infrastructure to its full potential.

The first question to ask ourselves is how can we use these facilities at their best, and then look for the best way to run the centres to serve that plan.

Maybe Lewisham can set up its own social enterprise, 4 centres are already an economy of scale, that’s how Greenich Leisure started, they now run 70 leisure centres. Why provide profits for shareholders when we could be reinvesting in our community assets?

Because as the tender tells us there are money to reinvest, almost £2m per year:

Historic third party income levels in operating the existing facilities has been in the region of 1 940 000 GBP per annum (excluding VAT and the Council’s management fee). It is projected that income may not meet expenditure to manage, operate and maintain the facilities, thus, the contract awarded may involve a level of management fee payable by the Council. Further financial details will be provided in the tender pack and other procurement documents.

It can also be the way to keep services going and dodge those cuts that no doubt will soon hit our budgets.

Southeastern replies to Caroline Pidgeon AM

February 2, 2010

The News Shopper has the story that Southeastern has replied to the Chair of Transport Committee of GLA Caroline Pidgeon AM that requested the company an explanation for the three days of railway mayhem at the beginning of January.

Here’s the original letter in full, it’s an 11 pages dissertation of the company Managing Director Charles Horton where he explains why Southeastern decided to operate the way it did. Frankly it doesn’t explain convincingly why it didn’t operate a better service.
What this does well is to clarify who took decisions and based upon what, and this clarification is found in the paragraph authored by Network Rail’s Kent Route Director Dave Ward:

In times of service disruption, it is Network Rail’s role to coordinate the industry’s response. Based on a detailed forecast predicting adverse conditions, together with dialogue from Directors at Southeastern it was my decision to request Southeastern to operate an amended timetable for the 6th 7th and 8th January. My decision was based on the forecast of adverse conditions, the challenges posed by operating electrical rolling stock on an infrastructure susceptible to rail icing and lessons learned from the 18th December 2009 where upon operating a full timetable in adverse conditions we experienced multiple train failures often leaving passengers stranded on freezing trains for long periods. It is the responsibility of train operators to put together an amended timetable, and on this occasion the timetable specified by Southeastern offered services into and out of London for essential travel based on resources available to Network Rail and Southeastern. We will jointly be reviewing the service on 6th 7th and 8th January including the service levels and hours of operation so that we can learn lessons, should the condition repeat in the coming year and beyond. I must assure you that my decision was not taken lightly, and was done to maintain our duty of care for the travelling public and the industry workforce.

So here you have it, Network Rail has all the information to assess what they and Southeastern can deliver and given what they knew they decided that a reduced timetable was best advised, but the extent of the reduction was completely down to Southeastern and despite the length of the response Charles Horton fails to convince that stopping service out of London at 8pm was needed. His assertion that the amount of service was measured against the reduction in demand on days with adverse weather also clashes with passengers’ experience that found trains overcrowded and insufficient to serve all those that were present at platforms.

We need to change the way this system operates, we need transparency, even in operational decisions, so that next time a reduced timetable is needed, it is measured against the need.

In the past few years large subsidies were handed out to Southeastern, and large dividends were distributed to the shareholders, if the capacity to run better services in adverse condition is not there then it means that shareholders may have helped themselves above what they should have, even at the cost of the company’s capacity to respond to not ideal situations.

All the reasons given by the Managing Director for the decisions they took bring back to one overarching consideration, the same consideration that Network Rail did, that the capacity of the company falls short of what’s needed to run a full service in bad weather.

Another reason to sign our petition.

Southeastern invites Lewisham Lib Dems for talks

January 20, 2010

Lib Dems didn't reduce service because of snow. Petitioning at Hither Green Station. From left: Pete Pattison, Halina Bowen, me.

This Monday 18th January Southeastern Railways wrote to the leader of the Lewisham Lib Dem group Cllr Chris Maines, the letter had a title written in bold characters: Liberal Democrat Petition!
In the letter Southeastern proposes to meet with us for discussions, and so on Monday night me, Tam Langley and Chris Maines met and decided our platform of requests for Southeastern.

We decided on a number of issues to raise, including refunds to season ticket holders, but we also agreed on a very important central point that we need to make, that we need confidence in Southeastern’s ability to deliver a dependable service and this is only achievable if the traveling public (I hate the word “customers”) are allowed to question the company’s operational decisions. We need a voice of the stakeholders that is kept informed and has weight. Something that does not exist in the current set up.

The terms of the franchise agreement between the Department for Transport and Southeastern is such that for the next few years Southeastern will receive progressively decreasing subsidies, the subsidy was £136m last year, it will be £116 for the year starting on 1st April 2010, dropping further to £71m for 2011, then £24 for 2012 and ultimately becoming a premium to pay to the Government in the last year of the contract when Southeastern is supposed to give back £18m.

In 2009 the company made an £18.3m profit, which is a long way below the £76.8m achieved the previous year, and worryingly much of it has been achieved through large scale redundancies (link):

Operating profit* was below the exceptionally strong result for last year but broadly in line with the franchise bid. This was partly achieved through a significant cost savings programme which Southeastern started in the first half of the year, including a reduction of up to 300 positions which incurred an exceptional charge of £1.9m, procurement savings and other efficiency savings which in total are estimated to have saved nearly £10m compared to last year.

These numbers scream one word: warning!
In the good years large subsidies have been transformed into dividends for the shareholders and when the subsidies decreased workforce was instead sacrificed to provide a profit, but the margin is reducing and if this trend continues Southeastern at the end of the franchise will have neither money nor men and it may return to the Government a dead horse.
The recent decision to run a reduced timetable for adverse weather forecast is in effect a self-audit. The company showed no confidence in its own capacity to sustain the service. Where in the past an adverse weather forecast would have moved management to decide for increased trains on the track to prevent ice from forming, this time it decided for reduction of service. This went against industry standard practice and the fear is that it did so because it didn’t have the capacity to adequately respond to an adverse weather situation and knew it.

The original sin was obviously that of the Labour Government that set up an agreement that doesn’t deliver enough for the traveling public and apparently only makes it worthwhile for the franchisee if costs are cut to such a degree that the system starts to creek (although the past large dividends may say another story).
Recently Southeastern delivered increasingly poorer results both in terms of punctuality (90.8% in 2009, was 91.1% in 2008) and customer satisfaction (76% in 2009, was 79% in 2008), this affair of the reduced timetable is just the straw the broke the camel’s back.

We need a review of Southeastern’s working practice to happen transparently and with the involvement of the traveling public. We must regain confidence in our train service.

The company is due an explanation to the GLA transport committee, and crucially is due a renewal of the contract in 2012, something that it should not take for granted (link) . It’s time to put maximum pressure to bring some positive change to the way it operates.

The issue must not drop off the agenda, that’s why we Lib Dems will keep on collecting signatures on our petition that asks Southeastern to recognize the poor performance and apologize by giving the equivalent of three days of subsidies to Network Rail.
Despite the fact that service level has dropped this year shareholders will receive a dividend and managers a bonus for delivering a profit.

By signing the petition all those that have been let down can unite their voices and deliver a strong collective message to Southeastern.
Our initiative is working! The message already reached the intended ears and Southeastern now invited us to talks.

It’s of capital importance that these talks are meaningful, we must keep up the pressure now, the petition goes on.

Last week I spent twice two hours outside Hither Green Station with a campaigning table and a clipboard and collected hundreds of signatures. I spoke with many that lost days of work and even days of wages.
We must act if we don’t want to see this situation repeating and the service deteriorating. We just cannot afford it.
Sign the petition.

Sign the Southeastern Public Refund Petition

January 12, 2010

These days the Southeastern Railway website opens with a photo of a man holding an enormous watch in front of his face, the caption says “it’s time for change”. At seeing it many will think “indeed”.

There’s a widespread feeling among South East London commuters that last week suffered the consequences of the 3 days of severely reduced timetable, they feel badly let down.
As freight and high speed trains were running seemingly as normal, commuter trains operating on the same lines were few and far between and so overcrowded that one could hardly fit in, if at all. Many couldn’t go to work, self-employed lost income, countless trips had to be cancelled. Central London was almost out of reach from many areas of South East London and Kent.

It wasn’t an exceptional weather, temperatures were just below zero and only a few inches of snow fell over a few days. That’s a normal winter weather, as normal as it can be, and services should be able to stand that.

Southeastern underperformed so badly when compared to all other operators around London that measures must be taken.
That’s why the Lib Dems are now collecting signatures on a petition that aims at giving a strong message to Southeastern: put your house in order!
When a company accepts a £136m public subsidy to run a public service it must provide the service all year round, it must have measures in place to run the service in normal winter weather and since the railway is an essential and strategic service it must be prepared to make an effort even when providing the service is not easy.
Last week Southeastern threw in the towel even before the match started.

Today we ask Southeastern to return a share of that subsidy equivalent to 3 days of service (£1.1m) to Network Rail to be invested in improvements at stations served by Southeastern. It’s a practical way to compensate those that for 3 days have been inconvenienced and to publicly acknowledge that it must do better if it wants to keep on running this strategic public service.

Please either download the petition sheet, print it and collect signatures at your workplace, home or at the station or sign online. Improve your train service.

Oysters are expensive

November 25, 2009

Lewisham Station - platform 3 - passengers celebrate the arrival of Oyster cards


Oyster cards are arriving to the suburbian railways of Lewisham, Hither Green and beyond. But they come with a hefty bill, a bill you need a degree in billology to understand in full but in short means overall increase in fares, even higher fares for non-Oyster users (yes, there are those that don’t need an Oyster Card) and off peak, plus the introduction of a rather inconvenient system of Oyster Extension Permit for those with Travelcards wishing to travel outside the zones of their permits, something that will inevitably be felt more in areas like ours that are spread across zone 2 (Lewisham Station) and zone 3 (Hither Green).

I cannot possibly put it better than Darryl did in this post that deserves a nomination for some suitable blogging award. Read it here.

I agree with Darryl that this fragmentation of the London railway doesn’t work. London is one town, can we have someone with responsibility for pricing, timetables and routes please. We elect a Mayor of London, I  think it’s just natural that he should have control on these matters, not some control on some, all control and all responsibility.

The recent announcements about transports don’t really speak of joined up thinking and planning in the best interest of Londoners. You can just imagine the ballet of accountants and solicitors that on behalf of the baffling number of rail operators worked out who needs to provide what and how much to pay and to whom and in what way, what a headache. The cost of negotiations must be staggering, and the priorities will inevitably end up in the wrong order. If this byzantine pricing system inflicted on all of us is a symptom then the patient is in need of a cure.

The cost of security

November 24, 2009

I just received the replies to my questions for tomorrow’s Council meeting, here’s the first.

PUBLIC QUESTION NO. 20
LONDON BOROUGH OF LEWISHAM

COUNCIL MEETING

25 NOVEMBER 2009

Question asked by: Mr M Calò

Member to reply:    Deputy Mayor

Question

How long has the Ladywell Playtower been under 24hr security and at what cost?

Reply

24 hour security was installed at Ladywell Playtower on 12.05.06. The total cost to date is £419,401.

Stop the great train robbery

November 19, 2009

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

Sydenham High School contract was rigged

September 22, 2009

The list of the contracts found to be rigged is available from the OfT website.

Lewisham Hospital is not one of them but one Lewisham contract is, it’s a contract for £1,327,000 for works at Sydenham High School.

The OfT also says that “Councils are free to sue”.

And so Lewisham Council should do, you’ve been taken for mugs and swindled of our tax money. Go for them now!

Construction cartel fined

September 22, 2009

From today’s Times:

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today fined the construction industry £129.5 million after an investigation into bid-rigging between companies tendering for public sector building contracts.


Last year we discovered that the biggest construction companies of the land had formed an unethical and unlawful cartel to squeeze more money out of public contracts, I have quite a strong opinion on this matter as I wrote back then here.

Here in Lewisham we are personally touched by this story as one of the companies found guilty and fined is in fact Carrillion, which built the new block at Lewisham Hospital.

From today’s article in the Times:

Tristan Meears-White, a lawyer with Watson Burton, who represented 14 of the smaller companies, told The Times: “Bearing in mind the huge resource the OFT has thrown at this four-year case – they brought in a lot of agency staff, which must have cost them a fortune, this is not a massive fine.

“It might sound like a lot, but relatively speaking its not been the most profitable return for four years’ work.”

Obviously, I strongly disagree with this lawyer, malpractice has been unveiled and large sums have been saved to the taxpayers by preventing this happening again (at least for a while) on further contracts.

In the current economic climate it would have been irresponsible to push a few of them under, as the seriousness of the charge would have called for. Those involved represent large part of the construction sector of this Country and his clients got away with it because it’s not in the public interest to punish them further, but it was in the public interest to unearth and disclose the dishonesty of his clients.

Lord Mandelson has already taken a position, and it goes in the opposite direction of mine, he sent a guidelines note to Government departments saying that companies involveved should not be barred from future contracts.
The note is redundant as today’s Court order doesn’t bar them from anything and anyway we are here speaking of basically most of the the companies with the capability to run for large public contracts, so if you cut them out you’re left with no one.
The note Lord Mandelson should have sent should have contained names and surnames of those people involved in these frauds against our shools and hospitals’ budgets, the people that we now know should never be allowed anywhere near public contracts again.

_______________

It is also still the case, and a stronger case, for what I called for at the time of the unearthing of this scandal, that we should be asking the Office of Fair Trade if Lewisham Hospital was one of the contracts they know of having been rigged, and if that would turn out to be the case then we’d have to look at the contract again, because it’s an ongoing one, it was not only for the construction of the new Hospital building, but also 30 years of facilities’ management services.
And with the current state of the finances at Lewisham Hospital we’d surely do with some more money.