No scrutiny into SBC’s £2M waste write-off

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) scrutiny committee has rejected a call to review a failed waste treatment project in Galashiels and the subsequent decision to write-off nearly £2million in procurement costs.

The probe had been requested by retired Borders journalist Bill Chisholm who has been pressing for an independent inquiry since February when SBC cancelled a contract with New Earth Solutions (NES) to deliver an integrated, energy-producing plant at Easter Langlee.

During the procurement process, SBC spent £1.968million, the bulk going on lawyers and consultants.

In April, Mr Chisholm wrote to Audit Scotland asking for an investigation, focusing on a private SBC meeting in October 2012 when a revised contract was agreed and the scrapping of the deal because the technology was untried and NES had failed to attract the necessary private investment. He was advised that the matter had been referred to SBC’s external auditor as part of the statutory audit process of the council’s books for 2014/15.

On May 4, Mr Chisholm wrote to Jenny Wilkinson, clerk to the council, requesting that the nine-member scrutiny committee, re-established in January, should examine all the circumstances surrounding the award of the contract, its cancellation and the write-off of public money.

In a reply received on Monday, he was told by Ms Wilkinson that his request had, in fact, been considered in private at the May 28 meeting of the scrutiny committee which had “decided not to undertake a review at this time”.

Ms Wilkinson cited Audit Scotland’s decision to refer the matter to KPMG, adding: “Their report [the council’s annual audit report] will be published on September 30, 2015. Any issues arising from that review will be made public and reported back to Audit Scotland as well as the council.

“A further inquiry into the council’s actions, in effect duplicating the auditors’ work, is therefore considered inappropriate at this time.”

Mr Chisholm said: “It suggests to me that the system recently devised at Newtown to examine council decisions is worthless. Another door may have been slammed against me, but my efforts to uncover the full story will continue.”