HOUSING bosses today defended their decision to choose only one Blackpool firm out of nine contractors to undertake a multi-million pound renovation of the resort’s social housing.
Blackpool Coastal Housing said just seven of the 45 initial applicants were from the Fylde area, with only one making it to the final list of contractors carrying out this year’s £4m refurbishment of council properties.
The other firms are from Preston, Manchester, Salford and Sheffield.
But frustrated Fylde coast tradesmen have branded the procurement process “sickening” while business leaders are calling for changes to the current system, which they say discourages smaller companies from applying.
Tom Logan Sr, of Ark building contractors in Blackpool, said small to medium sized businesses cannot afford the tendering process.
He added: “They should really try harder to get local companies on the list. I believe these frameworks serve to omit small to medium sized builders who don’t even get the opportunity to tender for the work because the pre-qualification process is so onerous.
“Things have changed over the years, smaller companies used to get some smaller projects but not any more as the forms are the same whatever the project. Most companies are not big enough to commit to the tender process. You can spend thousands of pounds just on the pre tender work, only the bigger companies can afford to do this.
“I don’t believe the bigger companies offer better value for money. They have much larger overheads than smaller, local firms. In some cases they end up subcontracting out the work which can benefit local companies but would cost the customer more in the long run.”
Ross Dickens, president of the Fylde Coast Association of the National Federation of Builders and managing director of Thornton-based Clement Dickens contractors, he said: “It’s clearly a missed opportunity for Blackpool Coastal Housing to invest in the local economy. This framework would have supported a substantial amount of local businesses, provided local employment and made sure the money stays in the local economy during these difficult commercial times.
“There are a lot of extremely good contractors in this area, many of which are working on similar projects throughout the rest of the North West for private and public sector clients, so no one can claim the Fylde doesn’t have the quality or the experience.”
But Peter Jefferson, chief executive of Blackpool Coastal Housing (BCH), said procurement rules prevented them from prioritising local companies, but insisted the funding would create Fylde coast jobs as all contractors would be required to use local labour either directly or through subcontractors. He said: “It is envisaged that 85 per cent of the jobs that this contact creates or secures will be for Blackpool people. While we are bound by EU Procurement rules BCH does its utmost to maximise local employment in all contracts we tender.
“The process for choosing contractors is based on a number of factors, including the quality of the work, experience and the benefit they can bring to the local communities. These processes have been designed to benefit the local economy and potentially create training opportunities and apprenticeships. All companies who work for BCH are encouraged to employ local labour and use local supply chains and this is monitored regularly.
“Blackpool Coastal Housing will always help small local businesses through the tender process and are determined that any contracts provide tangible benefits to the local community.”
The Decent Homes fund is a £66m programme of investment to bring all of Blackpool’s 5,500 social housing stock up to standard.
Around £4m has been allocated for 2013, with projects including improving heating, carrying out external works and conversions in BCH-owned properties across the resort.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, has accused BCH of turning its back on local business and has called for the council and its partners to ‘shop local’.
He said: “I am absolutely furious that despite the Gazette highlighting my concern several months ago in regard to local businesses being ignored by this council, they and their partners continue to support outside companies rather than those in Blackpool.
“When I first urged the council to ‘buy local’ we were all given assurances more would be done to support buying goods and services in Blackpool. “These were obviously empty words as it would appear this council is intent on ignoring local businesses.
“Blackpool Coastal Housing is appointed to manage our housing stock and they should also be encouraged by the council to use local services and companies. Clearly by looking at their recent list of appointed contractors, this is not the case.
“Out of town companies employ out of town labour, buy their fuel out of town, purchase their materials out of town, pay council tax out of town and spend our money out of town while business in Blackpool continue to struggle and some face bankruptcy.”
David Wilkinson, 33, of HDM Building LTD, from Thornton, was also angered by the decision.
He said: “A lot of local lads need a chance. There are traders here who are more than capable of taking on the work for a fraction of the price.”
And John Elrick, owner of A Class Plumbing in Blackpool, said: “It’s the same old story where they have outsourced the work instead of considering the local traders. It’s frustrating because there’s hundreds of people out of a job and this project should be helping them get back into work. It’s sickening and the council should be looking at giving everyone the trade in Blackpool.”
Paul Foster, Lancashire development manager for the Federation of Small Business, says it is important for organisations to look at how their procedures might be a barrier to smaller businesses.
He said: “There is definitely the feeling out there that the systems are too complex. The procurement process can be very off putting, especially to smaller businesses who perhaps don’t have the experience or the resources to spend filling in the forms or paying for the accreditations that help them score points.
“We would like to see local authorities be more creative about how they put forward their qualification procedures, to simplify the process and work more closely with small businesses to encourage more to get involved.”
CONTRACTORS CHOSEN TO CARRY OUT THE REFURBISHMENTS
Read & Errington, Blackpool
Bramall Construction, Salford
Kier Support Services, Sheffield
Bramall Construction, Salford
Kier Support Services, Sheffield
Bullock Construction, Altrincham