Thursday 23 May 2024

Was the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising lease bidding process fair?

Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


I’ve already written about my open letter to the Council Leader, seeking to ensure that voting on Brent’s award of a new advertising lease for the Bobby Moore Bridge at next week’s Cabinet meeting is fair, between the two options that bids were sought for.


In this article, I will share my concerns over whether the way in which the Council carried out the process for awarding this contract gave a fair chance to advertising companies other than the existing “supplier”, Quintain Ltd (or its Wembley Park subsidiary).


The new lease was published as an open Invitation to Tender (“ITT”) on the Contracts Finder website on 15 February 2024, just as any other similar procurement opportunity would be. As the Officer Report to the 28 May Cabinet meeting shows, it produced 18 expressions of interest from organisations who might consider bidding:



The Report does not go on to say how many of the 18 organisations actually made a bid! This seemed odd, so I wrote to Brent’s Chief Executive, and the Corporate Director (Partnerships, Housing and Resident Services) who had signed off the Report, late on Friday afternoon, and asked them to let me know the number of bids received, saying this ‘is surely not "exempt information"!’


I received a reply, although not the answer, from the Corporate Director on Tuesday afternoon. In brief, it said:


‘On this occasion, the number of bidders and the sums bid are commercially sensitive and therefore cannot be disclosed. … Sharing the number of bids received regarding this tender process could risk prejudicing this particular procurement …. I apologise that on this occasion we cannot disclose more information.’


Ever since I obtained copies of the tender documents back in February, I have felt that the answer, the number of bids, might be just one (or only one which successfully made it through the vetting process which the Council had set out in those documents for bids received). It now seems that I will never know for sure.


The publicly available Report recommends that Cabinet: ‘Approve the award of a contract for Bobby More Bridge Advertising … to Quintain Ltd.’  As Quintain’s Wembley Park subsidiary already has the current advertising lease, and the advertising display screens in place, it was always unavoidable that they would have an advantage in the bidding process. But did the process reinforce their advantage, and if so, was that by accident or design?


I have taken a close interest in this matter, as I was the person who in early 2021 suggested to the Council Leader and then Chief Executive that when the advertising lease came up for renewal it should be by competitive tender. That should ensure the Council received the best possible income from advertising on its Bobby Moore Bridge asset, which in turn would make it possible to consider an option that would allow the heritage tile murals in the subway to be put back on public display. Carolyn Downs agreed my suggestion in March 2021.


I exchanged emails with Brent’s current Chief Executive earlier this year, to check that the competitive tender process agreed with her predecessor was going ahead. When she confirmed that was the case, I wrote:


‘Can I suggest, please, that the term of the lease for which bids are invited should be five years from 31 August 2024.


There are two reasons why I believe that this makes sense:


1. The existing advertisement consent (necessary to be able to advertise on the Bobby Moore Bridge) runs until 16 September 2029, so that five years from 31 August 2024 would be covered by that consent.


2. The reason why the four year lease to 30 August 2021, as approved by Cabinet, was extended by three years (at the request of the leaseholder, Wembley Park Ltd), was to allow five years use of the new advertising screens which the leaseholder installed in 2019. It was said that being assured those screens could be used for five years would make their installation commercially viable.


If any new advertising leaseholder needs to install their own new equipment, or purchase the existing equipment from the current leaseholder, a five year term would be more commercially attractive than a shorter term, and make it more worthwhile to offer a good price in the tender process.’


Kim Wright replied: ‘Thank you for your suggestion and we will consider this as part of our thinking.’ But when the ITT documents were published, this is what they said about how long the advertising lease would be for:



One of my concerns is that the Council Officer(s) who handled this bidding process were the same ones who handled the “secret” 2019 lease extension, using the commercial need for five years use of the LED advertising screens that Quintain installed as justification for changing the August 2021 end date, on the lease which Brent’s Cabinet had approved, to August 2024! They would understand the importance of that fifth year to potential bidders, and yet ….


When my enquiries in 2021 uncovered this lease extension, and some “very dodgy” features of it (especially over “proving” that the rent to be paid was best value), I complained to the then Chief Executive that there appeared to be “too cosy” a relationship between Quintain and the Council Officers involved. Were their actions here affected by that cosiness?


If potential bidders were not put off by only having four years to generate a profit from advertising on the Bobby Moore Bridge, after paying Brent a guaranteed minimum annual rent, they faced completing a number of detailed forms, and doing so within a tight time frame (by noon on 18 March). One of the most complex was the Quality Statement, with separate forms to be submitted for each of the two options. This was the introduction and first question on the Option A sheet:




 When you had worked your way down the form, this is what you would find at Question 5:



Quintain would definitely have an advantage in answering this question, as they had already installed this infrastructure in 2019. New bidders would have to do site visits, and research about local electricity supply, before they could start to prepare this detailed implementation plan. Yet all six of the questions had to be answered, and all of the other forms completed as well, otherwise your bid would be invalid (not a ‘compliant Tender response’). And then your answers would be evaluated, by Council Officers.


I was surprised when I saw the weighting which was being applied to the various aspects of the bids:



As the Council was supposed to be seeking the best economic return from advertising on its Bobby Moore Bridge asset, only giving the amount offered 35% of the overall score seemed rather low (although I don’t claim to be an expert on procurement!). As indicated above, Quintain’s prior experience of installing and operating advertising at the site would appear to give it a big advantage in the Quality/Technical section, which accounted for more than half the total score. And even though Social Value only counted for 10% of the weighting, this included features such as local employment (I’m sure you can guess where Wembley Park Ltd’s employees work).


I asked in my title: ‘Was the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising lease bidding process fair?’ I still can’t answer that question, but you will understand that I have my doubts about it.


Philip Grant.




Anonymous said...

London Borough of Bent

Anonymous said...

This is heritage location in Brent, just show all tiles and do what you want with rest. Why not preserve for all to see.

Philip Grant said...


In the article above, I quoted from an email I'd received from Brent's Corporate Director (Partnerships, Housing and Resident Services). I will set out below the text of the reply I sent to him yesterday morning (22 May).

Usually, I share the full text of my emails to Cabinet members and Senior Council Officers, in the interests of openness and transparency.

On this occasion, I have omitted one sentence, as Brent Council might consider it 'commercially sensitive'.

'Dear Mr Gadsdon,

Thank you for your email.

I note your claim that the number of bidders, as well as the sums bid, are commercially sensitive and cannot be disclosed.

[This sentence has been "redacted"!]

I wanted the open tendering competition to be truly competitive, so that Brent receives the highest possible return for advertising on the Bobby Moore Bridge.

I freely admit that part of my motivation was the hope that the income from advertising on the bridge parapets alone (Option A) would be sufficient to allow the tile murals on the subway walls to be put back on public display, and I still hope that a minimum guaranteed annual income in excess of £90,000 will allow that aim to be achieved.

I believe that if a suggestion I made last February, before the invitation to tender was published, had been accepted, there would have been a better chance of more, and higher, bids.

You may not be aware of it, although I was told by Ms Wright that my suggestion was being considered, but I gave two very sensible reasons why the advertising lease offered should be for five years, not four.

Why that suggestion was not adopted is one of the questions to be asked, about why this bidding process did not produce a better result. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.'

Anonymous said...

This is a very good article and I am glad that there is someone out there looking in more detail and checking some of the public contracts, especially the preferential treatment shown to some companies. Please also look into how other numerous contracts/projects which are not public are handed over to usually one company with a huge amount of money spent while overstating their cost savings and doing tasks the council can do itself which existing skills and employees. There is little scrutiny of these types of contracts because there is usually a cosy between the company and the decision manager. See liberata/capacity grid and council tax contracts. The manager worked for Liberata before moving to Brent.

Anonymous said...

Brent cosying up to Quintain again.

Philip Grant said...

Thank you for your comment, Anonymous (25 May at 09:48).

I am only able to look closely at matters I have a direct interest or involvement in, not check up on the workings of Brent Council in general.

I note your allegations on Liberata*, and see from Brent's "Transparency Report" for the three months September to November 2023 that Brent did make around six payments to them, totalling well over £100k.

This is the sort of thing that Brent's internal audit or counter fraud officers should be looking at. I will send a copy of my article, and your comment, to them.

If you, or anyone else, has information which may help to stamp out any corruption that may exist at Brent Council (as is possible in any large organisation), you can send the details to:

* Liberata UK Ltd, a subsidiary of Outsourcing UK Ltd, had a turnover of c.£62m in its latest published accounts

Anonymous said...

They don't care about heritage in Brent!

Philip Grant said...

The Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning will show whether Brent's decision makers care about heritage, or not.

Anonymous said...

There are probably not enough people with expertise and proper auditing knowledge at Brent to identify irregularities, like in many other local authorities, unfortunately. Not enough staff in many departments.