Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Inquiry call after Westminster Council admits bungle

Westminster Council logo
Westminster has been embroiled in numerous parking rows in 2010

A full investigation into Westminster Council's parking department has been demanded by campaigners after BBC London learned it cancelled the tendering of a contract due to a legal flaw and must start from scratch.

The council named Mouchel as preferred bidder for the four-year, £50m contract to provide parking enforcement services for the central London borough.

But the process was scrapped when in-house lawyers pointed out they had "judged the preferred bidder on price criteria which went beyond what was originally published to tenderers".

Westminster insists both contracts were properly tendered and maintains it acted within the rules at all times.

Mouchel has made no comment.

It comes after two separate inquiries were launched into contracts previously awarded by Westminster's parking department.

In one of the inquiries, the EU is investigating Partnerships in Parking (PiP), a body set up by the council to allow several local authorities to join forces to buy cheap parking services.

Westminster is supposed to be the flagship parking enforcement authority and yet, once again, we have another blunder
Neil Herron, parking campaigner

Canadian company Verrus was awarded the contract to provide pay-and-display services, pay-by-phone, parking tickets and debt collection to the councils.

But it is alleged that, when additional councils joined PiP, they broke European Union rules by automatically starting to use Verrus, rather than tendering it out.

In the other inquiry, which started in February, police are investigating allegations of fraud against two senior officers at Westminster Council.

That case concerned the awarding of another multi-million pound parking enforcement contract to a different private company.

'Flagship authority'

The latest revelation about the Mouchel contract has led parking campaigner Neil Herron, of Parking Appeals, to call for a full investigation into contract procedures at the authority.

He said: "Westminster is supposed to be the flagship parking enforcement authority and yet, once again, we have another blunder.

"We have seen illegal controlled parking zones, Diplomatic Bays not compliant and police investigations.

"It is about time a full, independent investigation was conducted into the whole of the parking enforcement regime."

Leith Penny, Westminster Council's director of city management, said: "Westminster Council has suspended the procurement process for parking enforcement following the discovery of a flaw in the contract document.

"To be fair and transparent to those involved in the process we have decided to end the current procurement process.

"We will instead start a new accelerated procurement process with a successful tenderer expected to be announced in about three months time."

It is the latest in a series of controversies to embroil Westminster Council's parking department.

In February, BBC London revealed Westminster's diplomatic parking bays had not had the correct authorisation for three decades, meaning millions of pounds of fines may be unlawful.

In January it was caught ordering officers to find ways to use parking to make more revenue, in an apparent breach of the law.

Westminster took £72m of revenue from parking last year, almost twice as much as the next highest earning London council.

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