Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Questions over demolition contract

By Liz Copper
BBC Midlands Today, Staffordshire

The contract to demolish the building was awarded last month

Concerns have been raised over why a firm was awarded a contract to knock down a former Victorian workhouse which was more than three times the price quoted by an award-winning company.

It follows a BBC investigation into plans to demolish Westcliffe Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council set a budget of £1.2m for demolishing the building and last month it accepted a price of about £1.1m from a firm to complete the work.

However, documents obtained by the BBC showed the cheapest quote received by the council was actually £309,000.

The lowest bid was rejected, despite the contractor being an award-winning firm and one of the biggest demolition companies in the UK.

'Deeply troubled'

The city council said it had concerns over the price which had been quoted for asbestos removal as part of that bid.

Phil Crossland, director of transportation and planning, said: "It's a price/quality evaluation, not just a price evaluation.

"I've no doubt that all seven of the contractors could have done a reasonable job here. That's not the issue.

"The issue is getting the best value for the council on a price/quality basis."

Concerns were first raised over tenders for the contract by councillor Alan Rigby, who was asked to witness the tenders being opened.

He claimed there were serious irregularities in the process and said he was asked to sign a form which did not contain details of prices.

When Mr Rigby asked to see prices, they were written in and ranged from £618,000 to £210m.

Computer glitch

Mr Rigby said: "There were seven contractors, but none of the prices they'd put in.

"Now to me this is a mockery of opening a tender, because if you're going to fill it in after, how can I sign to say this is an authorised tender when I don't know what prices are going to go in?

"To me there was something very, very wrong there."

The council, which is controlled by a leader and cabinet made up of three different political groups, said the problem with the forms was due to a computer glitch which was compounded by an error made by one contractor.

The Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South Rob Flello has called for an immediate investigation.

He said he had worries over the tender opening process and concerns over whether tax payers are receiving value for money.

Mr Flello said: "I'm deeply troubled by what I've seen.

"I've lost all confidence, quite frankly, in the systems and processes that are in place.

"I'm going to be asking the District Auditor to come in to do an investigation, either to give the council a clean bill of health if that's appropriate - or actually to raise some very serious matters with the council and, if necessary, heads must roll."

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