A PEMBROKESHIRE Conservative ‘call-in’ on a recently-awarded £370,000 council contract to a company linked to a rents fiasco where the council lost more than £300,000 is to be heard later this week.
That revenue was lost last year after council tenants’ annual rent rise was not correctly publicised in the appropriate time.
Tenants have a statutory two-month period of notice before rent rises, which were due to take place from April 1, can come into effect.
However, statutory rent increase notices were only delivered to tenants in late March, delaying the time of rent increases to July 1.
Earlier this month, Cabinet member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack backed a recommendation to award a £370,000 two-year contract to Dsi Billing for the printing and distribution of specialist documentation such as council tax billing, rents and debts.
A report recommending approval said: “There is no in-house capacity or expertise to undertake this service and an external contractor is required. Dsi Billing have undertaken the role for the council since the closure of our internal print unit and are recognised as being the market leader in this field.
“Other local authorities without in-house capacity, including neighbouring Carmarthenshire, use this company and a direct award under this government framework is allowable.”
Last week, all 10 Tory county councillors submitted a ‘call-in’ on that decision, which will now be considered at an extraordinary meeting of the council’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee meeting on January 26.
Committee members are recommended to scrutinise the Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance decision of January 12, either upholding it, the decision then taking immediate effect, refer it back to the member for reconsideration, or refer it to full council.
The ‘call-in’ said: “The Welsh Conservative group believe that this decision deserves full and proper scrutiny at committee level – given its sizeable cost estimation at around £370,000. It is of the upmost importance that in these times of unprecedented financial challenges, with a £27.1 million funding gap to be found, and expectations that the administration will ask for a council tax increase between 15-25 per cent in the forthcoming months, that we ratify every pound spent of their money.
“While there are many aspects to consider, particular focus should be around value for money to the taxpayer, competitiveness of the award and whether the awarding of such a contract would negate the council of bearing the cost should letters fail to arrive residents on time.
“The group have also expressed their concern that in a digital era, where email and MyAccount are becoming more popular by the day, what steps can – and are – the council actively taking to shift away from the need for hard copies posted to households.
“I need not remind you that the awarded company, DSI Billing, were the contractor tasked with delivering the 2023 HRA rent increase letters, which ultimately failed to arrive on time and has cost the authority’s HRA account in excess of £300,000.”
A report ahead of the January 12 meeting, with the recommendation to approve the Dsi Billing contract said: “The council is not aware of any other external print provider being used in Wales for printing and posting of these financial services documents.
“The council had an issue with the non-delivery of rent letters earlier this year and, while an investigation found that Dsi Billing could not be held liable as the Royal Mail deliver the ‘final mile,’ processes have since been improved to lessen the risk of such an event happening again.”