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Sutherland contractors' fury at being 'sold out' by Highland Council

By Caroline McMorran

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Anxious Sutherland contractors and shocked East Sutherland and Edderton Highland Council representatives met on Tuesday night to discuss an action plan.
Anxious Sutherland contractors and shocked East Sutherland and Edderton Highland Council representatives met on Tuesday night to discuss an action plan.

Tradespeople throughout Sutherland are up in arms after losing out in a new procurement scheme about to be introduced by Highland Council.

The majority have failed to make it onto newly drawn-up lists of preferred local authority suppliers – despite working for the council for decades.

Contractors claim it is the “nail in the coffin” for their businesses and will have a severe knock-on impact on Sutherland’s economy.

Golspie builder Michael Bonner said: “It will wipe us all out and that is no exaggeration. It has massive job implications for Sutherland and needs to be addressed immediately.”

The new framework, which goes live on February 24 and lasts until 2022, will see jobs previously offered to local contractors go to joiners, electricians, plumbers and other trades from Inverness and beyond.

An emergency meeting attended by 11 tradespeople and the three East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillors was held in Golspie on Tuesday night when the call “Local jobs for local people”, was made.

The ward councillors were due to have high-level talks with council leader Margaret Davidson and the authority’s head of procurement yesterday afternoon.

Councillor Richard Gale vowed: “I am going to do everything I can to get this changed. We have got a fight on our hands but we have the ammunition.”

The council began work towards implementing the new framework in spring last year. It said at the time it wanted to “streamline” the process but it is widely thought the main impetus was to cut costs.

Suppliers who wanted to be considered for local authority work were asked to fill in a 40-page document containing 167 questions.

So complicated and burdensome was the task that many tradespeople had to pay procurement experts to complete it on their behalf.

Trades were asked to provide two prices – one for work within a 30-mile radius and the other for work further afield. Both prices had to include travel.

From these applications, the authority has drawn up lists of six preferred contractors in each trade who will be used in the future. It is understood the selection was based mainly on price.

The 11 contractors at Tuesday’s meeting, for whom local authority jobs represent on average 50 per cent of their workload, vented their anger and concern and expressed disbelief that Inverness firms could undertake the work any cheaper than them given the travelling time involved.

The contractors warned that jobs and apprenticeships in the county were now at stake.

James Urquhart, who runs an electrical firm in Golspie, said: “It is a huge nail in the coffin for this area. This has to be stopped. Inverness wants everything.”

Talmine joiner Magnus Beveridge, who highlighted the loss to the council of local knowledge, said: “It makes no sense and it can’t save Highland Council money.

“A contractor from Inverness would have to drive 440 miles to a job in Strathy – compare that to a local contractor operating within a 40-minute drive. It’s not cost-effective nor environmentally friendly. So much for Highland Council doing its bit to be greener.”

Councillors present said the new scheme had previously been sold to them as focusing on local jobs.

Councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “Everyone is stunned.”

Councillor Jim McGillivray said: “I am absolutely shocked.

“These new procurement procedures will simply wipe out Sutherland trades, with disastrous consequences for the county.

“But this is typical of the one-size-fits-all attitude of this Inverness-centric council administration which cares not a hoot for the rural Highlands as long as Inverness is doing just fine.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We are currently in a standstill period which allows any supplier notified to seek feedback on their bid or clarity around the process.”

Read more news from the Northern Times here

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