Where did all the money go?

Galashiels Community Waste Recycling Centre & Easter Langlee Landfill Site.
Galashiels Community Waste Recycling Centre & Easter Langlee Landfill Site.

Details have emerged of how Scottish Borders Council spent nearly £2million in an abortive attempt to develop an incinerating energy-creating waste treatment plant at Easter Langlee on the outskirts of Galashiels.

The scheme to provide a workable alternative to landfill, capable of meeting strict and impending Scottish Government targets, was finally ditched in February because of “issues in terms of funding and technology”.

The firm contracted by the council to deliver the facility – New Earth Solutions (NES) – had, it is understood, failed to attract the required investment capital for a largely untried process.

When the deal fell through, SBC admitted it had already spent £2million on the project and that this sum would be written off, but now a Freedom on Information response has revealed where the money went.

The largest beneficiary was Edinburgh law firm Brodies which pocketed more than £679,000 for the advice it gave the council.

Another major recipient was D & P Management, the firm run by the SBC’s chosen procurement expert Barry Phelps, which netted over £302,000.

Apart from Galashiels-based Holequest, which received £8,566 for technical advice, payments to firms and consultancies based outwith the region, were made as follows: Faculty Services Ltd (legal) £6,450; McGregors LLP (legal) £1,200; SLR Consulting Ltd (technical) £184,345; Envirocentre (technical/environmental) £32,744; Nevin Associates Ltd (financial) £143,401; QMPF LLP (financial) £2,750; Willis (insurance) £10,600; SOLACE (project management) £92,475; and Practicus (project management) £116,042.

In addition, the FoI response prices the provision of office supplies for the project at £31,062 and reveals that SBC’s own internal staff costs were £356.403.

That amounts to a grand total of £1.968million, exclusive of VAT which, if added, brings the spend to £2.36million.

The council maintains that no information relating to the contract – signed in April, 2011, for a large-scale composting system and amended by councillors in October, 2012, to simultaneously include the untried thermal treatment plant – can be revealed for the next six years because of commercial confidentiality.

While council leader David Parker has rejected calls for an independent enquiry and insists the money was spent “appropriately and effectively,” one backbench councillor takes a different line.

Watson McAteer (Ind, Hawick & Denholm) told The Southern yesterday: “The level of spend without anything to show for it demands critical examination and public explanation.

“How on earth have we been able to spend so much on external legal advice and yet still find ourselves in this position?”