A council has been accused of treating elected members “like children” after refusing to tell them the names of the waste contract bidders they were voting for.
Opposition councillors at Canterbury City Council complained officials did not trust them to keep confidential details of bids for a waste and recycling collection contract.
Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Alex Perkins, a former council leader, said it was not usual practice for officers to conceal bidders’ names from councillors. He said councillors, “like children”, had not been trusted to take important decisions. Labour councillor Phil Cartwright condemned the process as “ludicrous” and accused officers of not trusting elected members.
Bidders’ names were withheld following a campaign to exclude Veolia Environmental Services UK (VESUK) over the activities of firms owned by French parent firm Veolia Environnement in the Middle East. Campaigners say VESUK is complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land because of waste and transport business activities by firms owned Veolia Environnement.
Perkins told MRW: “The United Nations passed a resolution saying Veolia were in breach of a UN resolution on human rights in Palestine.”
Councillors were told by officials at recent overview and executive meetings that rules had been interpreted “cautiously” so only the portfolio holder could know which firms had bid; protecting the council from a “significant risk of litigation”.
Council leader John Gibney (Con) told MRW voting on anonymous bids was not normal, but was done to “avoid any suggestion anything was contaminating the selection”.
He said after initially agreeing to join the East Kent Waste Partnership scheme, awarded to Veolia in 2010, the council was advised it could face legal action by third parties, so began the blind procurement process.
A meeting last week of the Conservative-run executive voted for “bidder two”, the only bid presented. After a ten day standstill to allow bidders the chance to challenge the decision, the winning bid could be announced in November.
Gibney said the council legally could only award the tender “on the basis of quality and cost”. But local anti-Veolia campaigner Diane Langford said while “legal opinion is divided”, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude had said public bodies could exclude companies for “grave misconducts”.
In April 2010 the UN Human Rights Council declared the Jerusalem Light Railway, operated until recently by Veolia Transport, “in clear breach of international law”.
A Canterbury City council spokesman said: “The tender documentation to which the council was legally bound specified that the council should not release the names of the bidders to anybody outside the council. Therefore, the council has been legally obliged to follow this.”
VESUK declined to comment.