Liverpool Council has been accused of “ignoring” local firms when giving out contracts for jobs from building repair and maintenance to WiFi services – with the majority awarded to companies who need to put the city “in the sat nav to find it”.
The local authority has come under fire from businesses and campaign group Save Our City, which has been lobbying on the issue for weeks.
The group said that since the appointment of current chief executive Tony Reeves in 2018, its commercial procurement unit (CPU) has looked too much to firms outside the city, with the figure standing at 57% of contracts awarded to non-Liverpool firms.
It has called for Mayor Joe Anderson to launch a public inquiry into the situation, which has seen firms from locations including Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Surrey awarded lucrative contracts.
The council told the ECHO that currently, the number of contracts being given to companies inside the city stands at 43% of the total.
A spokesman explained that the authority was “deeply committed to supporting local supply chains” and using contracts to “stimulate local employment”. He said it is common for larger companies outside the city to have local suppliers as well as a satellite office employing Liverpool residents.
He said in some areas of business, there may not be a firm with the specialism or size for a particular job. But he added that Mayor Anderson had launched a review into the authority’s “approach to social value to ensure we are in line with best practice and in the best interests of our local economy”.
Save Our City said the percentage rate for contracts awarded to Liverpool businesses should be 80% – almost double the figure for 2020.
A local business owner, who has won work over the last decade with the council, but did not wish to be named, criticised the authority for employing firms “from Dublin to Edinburgh flying staff in on a Monday and flying out again on a Friday”.
He said: “As a proud Liverpool company, we have worked on strategic projects with the city council and have always found the mayor, cabinet and elected politicians totally committed to creating local jobs, apprenticeships and economic prosperity.
“However since 2018 – when the chief executive arrived from Bradford – the entrepreneurial spirit and willingness previously shown by the council to engage with local companies stopped almost overnight.
“We have a situation in Liverpool where companies from Dublin to Edinburgh and Swansea to Sunderland are literally flying staff in on a Monday and flying out again on a Friday. What on earth is going on?
“With Covid-19 smashing our local economy, we are wondering how many staff we will have to let go as we do not have enough work to keep people on the payroll. We want to see the city council get back to its best and work with local companies to deliver a brighter future.”
Since the start of the year, companies to have won tenders from Liverpool Council include Irish-based construction firm Graham, which is working on two projects each worth millions of pounds – on city centre connectivity (around £9m) and the A565 bridge (around £6.5m).
Elsewhere, Edinburgh-based consultancy Always Be Content was paid £26,000 across two contracts for the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign.
That’s as well as Dublin-based One Identity Software International Ltd, paid £12,780 in April by the finance and resources directorate for an ICT project called ‘One Identity’, and Glasgow company Front Page winning a 36-month contract worth over £37,000 to work on the marketing and branding brief for the 2022 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
The authority has also given various contracts to firms regions including London, the home counties and the North East, as well as the North West.
Among the many contract awards for Liverpool businesses in 2020 are £500,000 across two tenders for OPEN Outdoor Media for digital advertising screens, £157,000 for the Whitechapel Centre for the migrant rough sleepers service, and £200,000 across two contracts for BLM Solicitors.
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The Save Our City group is backed by local residents including Sue O’Hare, Gill Harrison, Anthony McGann and James Sandown.
Mr Sandown said the news that “unelected, unaccountable” officers have handed out millions to companies outside of Liverpool would come as a “hammer blow” to residents. He said local businesses are being “penalised for being from this city”, describing it as a sorry state of affairs”.
He added: “Sadly the firms which are winning taxpayers’ work need to put Liverpool in the sat nav just to find it.
“Officers responsible must be held accountable – citizens of the city do not elect them, so we very much hope politicians will announce an independent inquiry.”
The full statement from Liverpool Council said: “During the last financial year, 43% of city council contracts have been awarded to Liverpool businesses. This rises to 55% in the city region and 75% for businesses based in the North West.
“Liverpool City Council is deeply committed to supporting local supply chains and using its contracts to stimulate local employment. More than 440 people have been employed as a result of council contacts in 2019/20, with a further 300 apprenticeships created. For this financial year, our suppliers predict 985 jobs will be created as a result of winning their contracts.
“Tenders are evaluated in line with national and European law and those that best meet the criteria, win the contracts. In some areas, the city also may not be home to a business that has the specialism or size of workforce required for a particular job.
“But equally it is common for larger companies outside the city to have local suppliers as well as a satellite office, either in the city, or region, employing Liverpool residents. The Mayor has instigated a review of our approach to social value to ensure we are in line with best practice and in the best interests of our local economy.
“Liverpool City Council maintains regular updates with various business networks on upcoming tenders and schemes and is currently pursuing a £1.4bn programme of investment to stimulate the city’s economy and has identified more than 40 major projects which will employ thousands of people.
“The council is also at the forefront of supporting local businesses throughout the Covid pandemic and has helped distribute more than £100m to companies in the city’s retail, hospitality and tourism industry and has vigorously lobbied the government for additional support, such as business rates and rental payment extensions and the extension of the furlough scheme.”
-- to www.liverpoolecho.co.uk