Concern over local volunteer groups

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AN ARBROATH councillor is fearful that voluntary organisations, including Arbroath based Starter Packs Angus and Furniture Recycling Project Angus, could be under threat if they fail to win a share of a £70,000 budget to supply homeless and vulnerable people with furniture in the county.

Angus Council has pressed ahead with an open tender for the service which could allow a commercial company to run a service handled by local volunteers for a number of years.

However, Councillor Donald Morrison, who visited organisations in Angus, Dundee and Fife as part of a cross-party fact finding mission, believes there is little justification to tender the service and is concerned the council is rushing far too quickly into tendering services without ensuring what impact the loss of a local organisation could have on the community and volunteering opportunities, in order to slavishly abide by Tender/Procurement Regulations.

Councillor Morrison commented: “Though supporting much of budgetary principles and the initial ideas within the report as the council state there will be a more targeted assessment and direct funding approach, including utilising more those who have a community grant, I remain uncomfortable with the need to procure a service which is currently being delivered by local volunteer organisations and which the total budget is split between four Angus Social Enterprises, making the service already competitive.

“There are sections within the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006, one of the national regulations and guidelines, which allow councils to exempt contracts, of any value, for supported employers, which I believe Starter Packs and the Furniture Recycling Project Angus to be.

“However, it is concerning elected members are being asked to make decisions whether a service requires to be tendered without having had any training on even the basics of procurement.

“It is also puzzling that the council is now seeking to tender this service when only two years ago they introduced a scheme in order to ensure the money stayed in Angus because, the council felt entering a tender exercise could have seen a large company come in and take the entire contract away from Angus organisations.

“So if the voucher scheme was brought in to safeguard the future of the Angus recycling projects from procurement and outside companies why procure when budgets are to be half as much?”

Councillor Morrison added that though the convenor of neighbourhood services tried to later reassure elected members that more than one organisation could be chosen to supply recycled furniture on behalf of the council, he was concerned details within the report remained missing as to how the bids would be judged and there remained a threat commercial companies who have no community volunteering experience could be successful.

He continued: “It is generally accepted that local authorities can include community benefits in specifications for contracts and again the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006 allow contracts to include clauses which tackle wider social and environmental objectives.

“But the reports fails to mention any of these nor whether community benefit or social added value will form a requirement of the weighting, including volunteering, use of criminal justice, community trust, carbon footprint and locality.”

Councillor Morrison concluded: “It is disappointing that the council is pressing ahead with tendering this valued service and should none of the existing organisations succeed with their bids, this will have a huge impact on the relationship between Angus Council and voluntary organisations throughout Angus.”

Councillor Jim Millar, convener of neighbourhood services said: “These matters were fully discussed at council and it was felt the fears which Councillor Morrison expresses can be accommodated within the contract framework which is being devised.

“The procurement rules are quite clear, as he himself indicates: it is the conditions of that contract which are being further refined to ensure greatest possible choice and protection for the service users.”