The owner of a firm asked by Scottish Borders Council to submit a tender for its recent failed dog-fouling warden pilot scheme has accused the local authority of creating a fine mess instead of cleaning up our streets.
The contract was instead given to 3GS, a South Yorkshire-based private-sector company in a move billed at the time as being cost-neutral.
That claim proved to be way wide of the mark, however, as the initiative ended up costing the council more than £70,000, as revealed in the Southern.
James Dewar, boss of Selkirk company Borderwatch Mobile Security, said the council had been “naive and grossly negligent in setting up the pilot scheme without incorporating adequate safeguards, checks and balances”.
He told us: “My interest does not stem from sour grapes or discontent at not being awarded the pilot scheme – you win some, you lose some – but from what I consider to be the grossly incompetent and naive actions of Scottish Borders Council in establishing the so-called cost-neutral scheme with 3GS, the mis-information that they provided to the public, and us, at the outset, and thereafter their ongoing negligence and incompetence in the administration and supervision of a clearly failed loss-making scheme that was, incredibly, allowed to continue running at a huge loss for a year past the expiry date of the 12-month pilot.”
Mr Dewar claims 3GS’s supposedly cost-neutral business model was unworkable from the outset, given the relatively low and scattered Borders population compared to the lucrative, highly-populated English urban areas it is used to operating in.
He also said the company “effectively ignored their principal remit in respect of dog fouling” as of the 128 fixed-penalty notices issued between June 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, 105 were for dropped cigarette ends and only nine for dog-fouling.
On top of that, 67 of those fines remained unpaid at the end of that period.
In a letter to Martin Joyce, the council’s service director for assets and infrastructure, Mr Dewar said: “The tactics adopted by 3GS, which were agreed, supported and now apparently partially financed by the council, completely failed to address the issue of dog-fouling.
“They operated in a low-profile manner from an unmarked vehicle, concentrating their efforts on detecting cigarette smokers outside public houses and betting shops.
“Their low-visibility, covert operational tactics provided absolutely no deterrent to potential dog-fouling offenders.
“This is clearly evidenced by the fact that complaints of dog fouling increased by 61% during the pilot between May 31, 2016 and December 31, 2016.
“For any scheme to be effective, high-visibility proactive patrolling, combined with ongoing interaction and dialogue with the public, is absolutely essential.”
Mr Dewar has since met Mr Joyce but claimed he “remained guarded in his response” and “was not at liberty to disclose or discuss any further details”.
In 2015, when his company was asked to submit a tender, Mr Dewar said Borderwatch Mobile Security carried out an in-depth study into the issue of dog-fouling and how it could be tackled.
An 11-page document was submitted, outlining its understanding of the issues, its proposed strategy and operational response, and it was presented to council officers and councillors in December 2015.
He said: “It became clear during the presentation that those present appeared to lack direction and consensus regarding what they required or expected from the pilot.
“For example, I emphasised a need for education as well as a strong high-profile enforcement strategy, but that was generally not well received by some and the emphasis was very much on enforcement rather than education.
“My recommendation that our patrolling officers would wear body-cameras was vehemently vetoed by a council official as being an invasion of human rights and would not be sanctioned.
“Surprisingly, both of these topics were subsequently championed and publicised as being an integral part of the pilot, which, by then, was being promoted as a responsible dog owner’ scheme with education a main priority.”
After the contract was granted to 3GS and reports began to emerge that it was not working, Mr Dewar submitted several freedom-of-information requests to the council and was shocked at what they uncovered.
He said: “The most astounding and disturbing information was in respect of the figures for fixed penalties issued, paid and outstanding, and the sensational disclosure that the council paid a monthly service invoice to 3GS in respect of charges for the service being provided.
“It transpires that for the first six months of the pilot, operational costs and income were shared equally between SBC and 3GS, but for all of the remainder of the extended pilot the costs were met by the council.”
The cost to the council at the end of January 2018 amounted to £77,058. After deduction of fines and other adjustments, that resulted in net outgoings of £70,550.
“At no time was there any indication or admission that the council were shouldering any expense of the pilot,” said Mr Dewar, and he is now asking the authority to explain its handling of the situation.
He added: “Should I not receive a full and satisfactory explanation, I will submit a formal complaint to the local government ombudsman outlining what I consider to be gross maladministration by Scottish Borders Council in respect of their handling of this matter from the outset and our deplorable and unfair treatment throughout.”
We put Mr Dewar’s claims to the council, and a spokesman said: “We take all complaints seriously, and this will be investigated and actioned accordingly.”