The Grenfell Action Group blog dated 27th Febuary 2016 drew attention to RBKC plans to lease our much loved Public Library in North Kensington to the Notting Hill Prep School. Our blog highlighted our four main areas of concern namely, the loss of another public community asset to the private sector, whether the RBKC had obtained ‘best value’ without a tendering process, the lack of transparency in negotiations between the Council and the Notting Hill Prep School and concerns that the proposed new library and youth centre complex might not be fit for purpose.
When we published our blog we were unaware that the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee, at its meeting on 6th January, had expressed serious concerns about the process by which the decision had been made to lease the Grade II listed library building. When we discovered this we realised it gave added weight to the concerns we had already expressed that the proper tendering process had not been followed, so we decided to draw our readers attention to the minutes of the Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee meeting on 6th January. According to the minutes;
“The Chairman asked about the process that had led to the award of the lease for North Kensington Library and asked if Corporate Property were certain it had provided best value. Mr Clark (from Corporate Property Services) explained the process taken which had been agreed by the Cabinet. The Chairman queried why the same open tender process that had been used for the Isaac Newton Centre had not been used in this case.
The Committee expressed concerns that an open, competitive process had not been followed in this case. Cllr Mackover said that when looking at the process through the eyes of a tax payer the test for best value would hinge on an open tender process that showed the highest bidder or offer received. He said that there had not been a test in this instance that could be evaluated. Mr Clark explained that a significant premium had been agreed with NHP and that the base value and the premium was supported by an independent valuer and local agent.
The Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the process that had been followed and the Chairman asked that the Key Decision stage be investigated and called-in if possible.”
Bearing in mind the level of concern demonstrated by the Scrutiny Committee and the fact that the Chairman of the Committee had asked for the Key Decision stage to be investigated, with a view to ‘calling in’ the decision, we felt fully vindicated in sending the following complaint to Nicholas Holgate, the Chief Executive and Town Clerk of RBKC, outlining our own concerns regarding the tendering process:
“Dear Mr Holgate,
We are writing to you in your role as Chief Executive of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea as I wish to launch an official complaint against the Council.
We are contacting you following an article on the Grenfell Action Group’s blog that highlighted concerns about the future of the North Kensington Library and the manner in which the lease has been granted to Notting Hill Prep School that appears most irregular.
Our complaint concerns the fact that there seems to have been a general lack of transparency surrounding the decision to award the lease of North Kensington Library to Notting Hill Prep that shows no sign of any open competitive tendering process.
It is not possible for us to understand how the Council can claim to have obtained ‘best value’ without opening the bidding process up to open competitive tendering in an attempt to secure ‘best value’.
We wish to make an official complaint against Corporate Property at the Council and ask RBKC to investigate why there was no competitive tendering process involved in the awarding of the lease our much loved library to Notting Hill Prep School.
if we are not satisfied with the response that we receive from RBKC concerning this matter we reserve the right to further these concerns to the Local Government Ombudsman.
The Grenfell Action Group can assure the Council we will not let this matter rest until we receive a transparent and clear explanation from RBKC as to why they did not engage with an open tendering process regarding the lease of North Kensington Library. At the moment, it looks to us very much like a private deal was agreed between the Council and Notting Hill Prep School to the exclusion of any other possible interested party. This seems a strange way to conduct business when ‘best value’ is the leglistiative yardstick.