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Monmouthshire council leader defends criticised milk contract decision

A COUNCIL has been accused of a “screeching u-turn” over a milk contract awarded to a firm more than 100 miles away. 

But Monmouthshire council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby, who was appearing before councillors at a pre-arranged meeting to discuss the local food plan it is developing, defended its stance on supporting local producers. 

Just before the meeting started the council issued a statement confirming it intends buying milk as a stand alone process outside of the Wales wide procurement system it had been following. 

The Labour councillor said the contract to supply its schools, care homes, leisure centres and tourist attractions with milk was made under the framework the previous Conservative administration had entered. 

She also said a report the new supplier has a hygiene rating of only one, the lowest on the scale that runs to five awarded by the Food Standards Agency wasn’t correct. 

Mary Ann Brocklesby, Monmouthshire council’s Labour group leader

The council had come under fire after the contract which had been held by Raglan Dairy, which is based near the council’s headquarters in Usk and uses milk from Monmouthshire farms, was re-tendered. 

As a result Haverfordwest-based Totally Welsh, which sources its milk from Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, was awarded the new contract through a joint procurement process run with 20 other Welsh authorities and public sector bodies. 

Conservative councillor Tomos Davies asked if the local food strategy the council is set to adopt in May would have had a “material impact” on, what he said was: “The decision to award the contract to a business in Pembrokeshire with a hygiene rating of one?”. 

The Llanfoist and Govilon member said the council had made a “screeching u-turn, slipped out this morning”. 

Tomos Davies, the Welsh Conservative councillor for Llanfoist and Govilon on Monmouthshire County Council (Pic: Monmouthshire County Council)

His colleague Alistair Neill said the milk contract, which is worth some £120,000, was “subcontracted” to a procurement process “without safeguarding local supply”. 

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The Gobion Fawr member said residents and the farming community would lose trust in the council’s policies, such as the food strategy, if they didn’t believe they would guide decision making. 

He said awarding the contract to a firm in Pembrokeshire, “that appears to have a hygiene rating of one” when it was awarded “cuts drastically across all these earnest statements about ethical, local and net-zero intentions and makes it appear it is just virtue signalling and destroys trust from residents.” 

He said rather than “hold its hands up and acknowledge a big mistake the administration has spent the last few weeks justifying it, further damaging that essential trust.” 

Alistair Neill, the Welsh Conservative councillor for Gobion Fawr on Monmouthshire County Council (Pic: Monmouthshire County Council)

But Cllr Brocklesby, who represents Llanelly Hill, said the council hadn’t wanted the outcome that Raglan Dairy would no longer be its supplier: “The contract is not held with the council. It is through that collaborative framework and we shared the disappointment but had no concerns about the transparency and accountability of the contract, if we had we wouldn’t be part of it.” 

She said the council’s own socially responsible procurement strategy, which it and Torfaen Borough Council have entered with Cardiff Council, has given it the opportunity to review the decision and consider stand alone supply arrangements. 

A council officer had already outlined the special circumstances related to milk including use of glass bottles, and a requirement it has to be within its fridges within 15 minutes of arrival, that have led to it considering stand alone arrangements.  

But head of decarbonisation Debra Hill-Howells said the council still has to follow strict procurement rules, which do not allow for favouring any geographic area, and it is taking advice from Cardiff Council. The process is expected to take up to six months. 

The hygiene rating for Totally Welsh was described as “not correct” by Cllr Brocklsby who said it related to a storage site in Cardiff the firm has acquired for the contract, and is upgrading, and hadn’t formed part of the tender but post contract negotiations.