GLOUCESTERSHIRE POLICE INVESTIGATE COUNTY COUNCIL CEO OVER ‘MISCONDUCT IN PUBLIC OFFICE’ RELATING TO INCINERATOR CONTRACT
CR4C has briefed a Gloucestershire police team on how Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) covertly agreed an illegal £150M increase in the Javelin Park contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) and then kept details secret.
By Tom Jarman, Co-Founder of Community R4C
Members of the Gloucestershire Constabulary team investigating possible ‘misconduct in public office’ by the Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council, Peter Bungard, have taken more evidence from us. This follows police receipt of a ‘victims’ letter’ signed by our supporters.
Police have been given a large file of evidence that shows how Gloucestershire County Council covertly agreed an illegal £150M increase in the Javelin Park contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB), and gives clues as to why they kept details secret. A summary of the evidence can be found in a previous post.
Why are Gloucestershire police investigating this now?
The allegations against Mr Bungard were previously investigated by Wiltshire police but it was not referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, a write-in campaign by our supporters, invoking the ‘victims right to review’ has resulted in Gloucestershire police taking another look.
The allegations relate to a crucial meeting of Gloucestershire County Council’s Scrutiny Committee in 2015. The committee voted to keep a renegotiated contract with UBB secret from the full council – that would increase the cost of the Javelin Park incinerator from £500 million to £650 million.
What is a Scrutiny Committee?
A Scrutiny Committee is a crucial oversight committee of our county council, which should act non politically to help ensure core principles of governance are followed. In November 2015 a call in brought by 5 councillors challenged secret details about a new contract to build the incinerator.
We now know that the secret contract includes an eye watering £150m increase in cost, and this was in breach of procurement law. It was this crucial meeting that was compromised by Peter Bungard’s improper meeting in a car park the night before the vote.
On November 19th 2018, the night before the Scrutiny Committee were due to vote, Mr Bungard met privately with Councillor Brian Oosthuysen, Chair of the Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Oosthuysen has confirmed that Mr Bungard used that meeting to try to persuade him to vote against the call-in decision.
This evidence of misconduct in public office is compelling, in my view. This is a serious matter. It would be normal for the GCC to conduct their own investigation and consider suspension of the officer concerned while this is underway.
Why aren’t GCC investigating this for themselves?
That’s the million dollar question. In ordinary circumstances, the procedure would be for the County Council to suspend the person in question while a full internal investigation is carried out.
I actually raised this as a formal complaint (along with other related matters to do with lack of openness and accountability from public servants) to GCC. The procedure says they should have investigated through the leader of the council, but in the spirit of impartialness, I asked them to name an independent alternative. In fact they appear not to have investigated the matter at all.
Eventually, I received a response detailing the reason for the lack of an internal investigation. Since the police weren’t prosecuting there was no basis for my complaint. I was advised to produce criminally robust evidence in order for them to investigate the complaint.
However, we need accountability in local government. Of course, you can act wrongly in public office without it being a criminal act – and people make mistakes, we’re all only human after all, but we must be able to complain about our public servants.
In this instance, we would call on the council to reflect on The Seven Principles of Public Life (The Nolan Principles) and to do the right thing.
If the prorogation of parliament has taught us anything, it’s that no one is above the law, even the Prime Minister – and this applies to our council members here in Gloucestershire too.
Why is this important to the people of Gloucestershire?
Gloucestershire County Council agreed to a public contract that increased in cost by more than 10% – an outright breach of public procurement law. In actual fact, the contract should’ve been re-tendered, but it was not, for some unknown reason. Public procurement law says that if a contract is renegotiated and increased in cost by 10% or more, it must be re-tendered.
Over 4000 people from the county wrote to object the incinerator being built, and the Council’s own planning committee unanimously rejected the plans, yet still the incinerator was built.
One of our aims at CR4C is to revert the Javelin Park contract back to the initial 2013 terms, which sited a £500m cost for building the incinerator, this could save GCC £150m. Funds that could be better spent elsewhere in the county, preferably on initiatives that will help mitigate the effects of the incinerator, instead of helping to fuel the climate emergency.
In addition, it’s important to note that the cost of waste disposal under the new contract is significantly higher than current spend in 2019. Council budgets show that costs of waste disposal next year (2020) will go up by £8.5M per annum compared to current costs of sending waste to landfill.
Ideally, we’d like to save the county from having to spend more public money on an eyesore that’s terrible for the environment and poses unnecessary risk to public health.
UPDATE - The outcome of our Victim's Right to Review has been announced by Gloucestershire police. It's been found that the evidence did not meet a very high criminal evidence threshold for the offence of Misconduct in Public Office.
This was an investigation into Peter Bungard, the Chief Executive of the Council and other officers. The investigation took almost a year, and finally concluded that the evidence threshold for Misconduct in Public Office was very high, and the evidence provided did not meet the threshold. This does not mean that there hasn't been wrongdoing at County Council behind this woeful contract. Our current High Court action should lead to recovery of up to £150M for Gloucestershire taxpayers, and could lead to the end of the harmful incineration of plastics and recyclable material in our County.
Thank you to everyone who signed the Victim's Right to Review letter. Now the police investigation has concluded, we'll be writing to the council's compliance officer. We'll ask them to investigate the alleged breach of duty to the council by Peter Bungard – for his actions to support this improper contract and the secrecy surrounding it, in breach of the Council’s Code of Governance.