Monday 2 April 2012

How local firms lose out in procurement process

Spawning frogs Fryent Country Park March 1st
We should soon hear the results of the Council's internal deliberations about the possible privatisation/out-sourcing of the Brent Parks' grounds maintenance service.  The Council have refused to answer my Freedom of Information request about the matter but I hope the results will be subject to meaningful consultation.

If the result is a decision to out-source several issues need consideration. Firstly, such decisions often leave the current workers at a disadvantage. Although they have expertise in the actual job they are unlikely to have it in the arduous and complicated task of putting in a detailed bid at the procurement stage if they decide to make a bid as a group of workers. They may also not be able to give the financial guarantees that a large firm will be able to provide. Large firms, used to procurement, will have the back office expertise to make a bid as well as low pay rates that will undercut an internal bid.

Secondly, we need to ask about the quality of external contractors: their skills and the empathy they have with the local environment.  Brent rightly has great pride in its Green Flag winning parks and particularly the precious Welsh Harp and Fryent Country Park spaces.   Having seen some of the grounds maintenance work done by contractors on our housing estates, as well as some undertaken in the Country Park, I am very concerned that maintenance will be of the 'cut and slash' variety. Rather than pruning and reducing trees sympathetically to encourage balanced regrowth, they will be sawn back. Shrubs will become rectangular and cut back at convenient times for the contractor rather than at the appropriate seasonal time. There is a danger that habitats will not be nurtured and will be subsequently lost.

Maintaining and enhancing biodiversity is one of Brent's priorities and success stories. We must make sure this is not lost in the rush to save money.

Similar issues arise with attempts to use local small firms for building projects in schools. With high levels of unemployment in Brent it is essential that we try and give them work. However they again often lack the back office staff and financial guarantees necessary to meet the procurement demands of Brent Council and contracts instead go to large companies, often multinationals, with workers travelling from outside of Brent. As part of a strategy to combat unemployment in Brent we need to look at  how we can support small building and construction businesses that are part of a community and will want to deliver a good job for that community.

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