Private contract causes Lewes District Council row

Southover House, Lewes
Southover House, Lewes

The leader of Lewes District Council has refuted claims by the Lib Dems that its decision to award its ground maintenance contract to a private company was a ‘costly’ choice.

The council’s scrutiny panel upheld a Cabinet decision to award a five-year contract to private contractor Burley’s.

Cllr Sarah Osborne, Lib Dem chair of the panel, said the Conservative majority voted against any further consideration of the decision.

“To ignore potential savings of hundreds of thousands of pounds seems perverse and is a disservice to its residents,” she said.

“The Conservatives appeared to have gone into the meeting with a preconceived idea of how they should vote and were unwilling to listen to their own council officers - the team of professionals they themselves put in place.

“This was another terrible and costly decision.”

Newhaven Lib Dem member Steve Saunders said he made a passionate plea in support of the officers’ recommendations to bring the contract in-house.

He said: “I fail to understand why when their leader Cllr Rob Blackman tries to promote himself as forward thinking and an ‘entrepreneur’, he and his colleagues make such a short-sighted decision that makes no financial sense.”

Mr Blackman said officers gave the choice of an in-house or privatised service and the tendering process achieved £123,000 savings on current costs, already reduced by a further £100,000 when Burleys took over in 2014.

“That’s £223,000 saved per annum over the previous contract presided over by the Lib Dems. So we’ll take no lessons in financial management from them,” he said.

“The remaining difference between the external bid and the in house comparator is £33,000 per annum when taken over the minimum five years of the contract, small beer in comparison to the overall savings we have made.

“It’s very important to remember the in house comparator was a best guess and a desk top exercise.

“A good entrepreneur knows when to walk away from the table. You don’t blindly invest in everything, especially when you have to commit to spending an additional £.585m for equipment.”