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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cllr Pollard's Q&A on Croydon Libraries

The following Q&A was received by a resident from Cllr Tim Pollard in early December and is reproduced here, in full. 

Croydon is reticent to announce that Laings is the preferred bidder and at least one local councillor still feigns ignorance

It also worth noting that Cllr Pollard makes another broken promise here.  We've highlighted it in red.  Not only have Croydon not announced the savings they claim this will make they have not announced the bidder publicly. Some suspect this may be because the process is still being challenged.

Have other bidders been treated fairly? If challenged, this could lead to a costly legal challenge.

And how can Croydon really effectively judge the service another provider offers when they are incapable of seeing the deterioration under their control?  


Why couldn't this service continue to be delivered in house?

Croydon Council, like all councils, has seen a significant reduction in its income as a result of the economic climate and the national requirement to reduce the structural budget deficit. Croydon could not continue to deliver a service in house at the same levels as today and make the savings that are necessary to meet
overall council budget requirements.

The alternative to bringing in an external provider would have been to cut services, potentially leading to the closure of branches.

Are you going to be shutting libraries to deliver this service in future?

No: a key objective of the outsourcing of the library service was to maintain of the current network of libraries. This contract will enable us to achieve this objective.

How did the Council choose its Preferred Bidder and why was this different to Wandsworth Borough Council’s Preferred Bidder?

The Council, in conjunction with Wandsworth Borough Council, ran a thorough and rigorous evaluation procedure. It was made clear throughout the procurement process that the two Councils intended to award separate contracts and therefore Bidders bid for each Council’s contract separately submitting two distinct tenders. The tenders submitted by each Bidder differed significantly between the Councils.

The Councils formed a Joint Project Team which included officers from both Councils. This Joint Project Team evaluated each tender received for both boroughs against pre-determined and published evaluation criteria and each sub-criterion was scored. For each borough a separate score was awarded to each Bidder: in other words, it was quite possible for a bidder to score highly for one borough but poorly for the other. As a result of this evaluation process the different preferred bidders were identified for each Council. The Joint Project Team made recommendations based on the results of this process.

The Joint Project Team comprised Officers with a wide range of technical and professional experience and qualifications from both Croydon and Wandsworth including ICT, HR, FM and Legal Services and all the evaluation scores were agreed within the team.

The team also received advice from external specialist advisers throughout the procurement and evaluation phases.

Why don’t you publish bidders’ tenders?
It is standard procurement practice not to publish tenders. There are a number of reasons for this. From the participating organisation’s point of view, participation in the tendering process costs them a great deal of money and their submissions are unique to them and covered by intellectual property law. They would not want their work and ideas to be freely available to their competitors or other potential

From the council’s point of view, the publishing of tender submissions may impact on the competitiveness of the process as companies may chose not to bid if their tenders would be made public. It may also reduce quality of the tenders proposed, with Bidders less willing to reveal any commercial “edge” because of the risk of this being made available to their competitors. If this were the case it would have a negative effect on any procurement exercise that the council partakes in and result in poorer value to the public.

We are also precluded from making tenders public because of our legal obligation under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (as amended) to keep Bidders solutions confidential and not to reveal the information to any other participant or to reveal the information generally. The purpose of this is to keep the integrity of the procurement process and to encourage Bidders to be as open and innovative as possible with their solutions.

Is the preferred bidder the best value for the council and taxpayers?

By “best value” we mean which tender was the “most economically advantageous” to the Council as this was the criteria which were used to evaluate the tenders. The evaluation took into account price, technical, quality and legal proposals. John Laing Integrated Services Limited submitted the most economically advantageous tender for Croydon.

What was the point of running the joint procurement exercise when you have appointed different bidders?
By having officers from two councils assessing the bids jointly we not only brought a wealth of experience and quality assurance to the evaluation, but it also created economies in the process that saved money for each authority. For example, the total bill for external legal advice was roughly the same as it would have been for one borough, but under this procurement it was split between the two boroughs.

Whilst the procurement was run jointly it was made very clear that the councils might not award both contracts to one bidder.

Why was GLL acceptable to Wandsworth and yet you appointed JLIS?

Whilst the procurement was run jointly it was made very clear that the Councils might award the contracts to different bidders. Each tenderer was required to submit a separate bid for Croydon and Wandsworth. GLL’s bid was the most economically advantageous offer for Wandsworth. JLIS submitted the most economically advantageous offer for Croydon.

What were the differences between the bids for London Borough of Wandsworth and London Borough of Croydon?

Because of our legal obligations under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (as amended) to keep Bidderssolutions confidential and not to reveal the information to any other participant or to reveal the information generally, we cannot reveal the details of bids nor the major differences. However, we can say that GLL’s bid for Wandsworth’s libraries was compliant and offered the most economically advantageous bid for them in terms of the price and quality standards offered. In the case of Croydon’s libraries, it was the JLIS bid which was compliant, and was the most economically advantageous bid for us in terms of the price and quality standards offered.

Rumours in the local press and blog sites suggest that the cheapest bid for this contract was disqualified. What efforts did you make to ensure that the lowest price bid was acceptable?

Because of the duty we have to maintain commercial confidentiality (outlined above) we cannot discuss individual bids, but we can discuss the principles of the evaluation process. The evaluation took into account both price and quality aspects. At the final tender stage the price element of the bids carried the more substantial weight in the evaluation, making the price the more important part of the evaluation.

However the Council also wished to ensure that a quality service was to be delivered to residents. Whilst quality received a lower percentage weighting than price at the final tender stage, the officers set strict quality thresholds for tenders which, if they were not met, could give rise to the tender being rejected. The reason for this was that the officers had provided Bidder’s with detailed feedback on their initial proposals at length during the dialogue phase and entered into dialogue with the bidders around any issues arising. 
Therefore if these finalstage thresholds were not met it was felt that the bidder would not be able to meet the Council’s requirements.

Did all the bids received include the provision of professional librarians and sufficient local management oversight?

The tender documentation requires that the Contractor is to:

provide suitably qualified and experienced staff to deliver and develop the Services and to maintain or increase standards of delivery and quality.
provide sufficient management, professional and frontline operational staff to deliver and develop the services and to maintain or increase standards of delivery. Managerial and professional staff will have appropriate qualifications and experience.

Any bid which did not meet the minimum required standard under this evaluation criteria, for example by not providing qualified librarians or sufficient management capacity, could be given a score that could lead to the rejection of their bid and all bidders were aware of this.

Is it possible for a bidder who “finishes bottom” to be awarded a contact, as suggested in a local blog site?

No, the process ensures that the winning bidder is the one who offers the most economically advantageous bid for the Council in terms of set criteria including quality and price.

Was a bidder rejected because they are not qualified to run a library service, as suggested on the same site?

No. The first stage of the selection process tests bidders’ ability to run a library service and no bidder would have got through to this final stage if they were not qualified to run a library service. However, it is possible for a bidder to be disqualified at the final stage if they scored sufficiently poorly on one of the evaluation subcriterion.

Is Upper Norwood Joint Library part of the outsourcing (sic)

Upper Norwood Joint Library has never been part of the outsourcing of Croydon library services. The council’s approach to Upper Norwood Joint Library was agreed by cabinet in September. Officers are working hard on the implementation of the community management model for the library.

How will the council ensure that the quality library service currently received is maintained when the contract is let?

The winning bidder will be contractually obliged to provide the services to meet the Council’s requirements in accordance with the council’s specification and the way the bidder planned to meet the need through its proposed methodology.

Rigorous and robust monitoring is being put in place in place and there will be regular and frequent checks and visits made by the council to ensure that all standards continue to be met. We are very confident that the contractor will deliver an excellent service, but the council also has the ability to impose substantial
penalties if performance does not meet the required standards.

How much did this procurement exercise cost (sic)
The total cost to date is approximately £94,000, which includes external legal costs, staff costs and some actuarial fees. The largest element of cost was the external legal advice.

The legal costs would have been approximately double this if we had not conducted the procurement jointly with Wandsworth.

Why was this decision taken at Corporate Services Committee rather than going back to Cabinet?

Corporate Services Committee is the council committee which reviews all contracts valued at over £500k before making recommendations of award to the relevant Cabinet Member. Cabinet can also award contracts where necessary, but this is unusual. In either case, due to the issues of commercial confidentiality alluded to above, the discussion would take place in closed session. The decision to move to preferred bidder status can be called in to the Scrutiny committee for review and this meeting will take place on 5 December.

The decision to outsource library services in principle was taken in open session in September 2011, following an earlier review of the branch network, which was also discussed in Cabinet as well as being called in for review by the Scrutiny Committee.

What benefits for residents and library users will there be?

Details of the savings that are expected to be made will be formally confirmed in the next few weeks, however they look to be substantial, and we expect the cost of the procurement exercise to be recouped within the first few months of the new contract.

What we can continue to assure residents is that no branches will be lost, and the new contract also guarantees that the council will retain the freehold of all its library buildings. Current levels of service will be maintained and improved, with branches opening for the same number of hours as they do now.

There will be a complete refresh of ICT services for the library service, improved service for the public including the availability of WIFI (currently not available in branch libraries). There will be an increase in the book fund (money spent on buying books). There will be participation in new initiatives e.g. the National
Reading Offer.

The library service will continue to look for more opportunities to involve members of the community and create further links with the voluntary sector through friends groups, fundraising events and social and learning activities.

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