Council defends its decision to spend thousands

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A COUNCIL’S leader and its chief executive faced a three-hour grilling over plans to spend £300,000 on consultants.

Fareham Borough Council decided to spend the money on a ‘systems thinking’ company called Vanguard, which claims to change the way staff deal with customers through a unique programme of training.

The council hoped to improve its customer satisfaction rating from the 2011 rating of 92 per cent.

It agreed on May 13 to spend up to £190,000 in the first year, £90,000 in the second and £20,000 in the third.

The Lib Dems were concerned that the council had not followed open tender processes by only offering the contract to Vanguard, and called in the decision to be looked at by the council’s scrutiny board last night.

Fareham resident Shaun Cunningham also spoke at the meeting against spending the money.

Council leader Sean Woodward was questioned and said although there are similar companies, the Vanguard method is unique and to open it up to tender would ‘give away its business secret.’

The council’s CEO Peter Grimwood, who was at the meeting, said: ‘All evidence suggests that others cannot challenge this. We are trying to save the council money by going through a very detailed approach which is not effectively a competitive process.’

The council said it had to follow procedures relating to products that can only be provided by a single source.

Scrutiny member Cllr John Bryant said: ‘We have got to be absolutely watertight and there are one or two questions that have been well batted. We have to be careful because people outside this process could start to say “what else is going on under the table?”’

The board decided go with the Vanguard method on a vote of six in favour and three against.

Lib Dem councillors Paul Whittle and Jim Forrest, and Ukip councillor Nick Gregory opposed the decision.

But the option to supply the council with ‘systems thinking’ training will now be advertised so that other companies can challenge the council’s belief that only Vanguard can provide the service the council needs.