Calls for public inquiry over further school asbestos revelations (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Calls for public inquiry over further school asbestos revelations in Walthamstow
RULES designed to ensure councils get value for taxpayers' money were broken twice during the hiring of contractors to deal with asbestos at a school, it has emerged.
The council has already come under criticism from parents after the toxic fibre was discovered at the former Warwick School for Boys site in Brooke Road, Walthamstow, just weeks before hundreds of children from St Mary's Primary were due to be relocated there in September.
Three classes and 18 staff from St Mary's had already moved in to Brooke Road in September 2011 and an investigation is reportedly underway into whether any children were exposed.
Now it has emerged that two companies were paid to do asbestos-related work at the site in the summer without quotes from other firms being gathered first, so the contracts were never put 'out to tender' to ensure best value.
Risk management firm GBNS was paid £52,425, while Pectel was contracted to do asbestos removal work worth £39,100. The company was later paid a further £38,100 without any tendering.
GBNS was given a further £37,250 after alternative quotes were finally sought.
Campaigner Nick Tiratsoo, who helped uncover a string of council failures to comply with contract rules designed to prevent fraud over cash earmarked for disadvantaged residents, said he was "astonished" by the revelations.
The figures are from a report into the issue by the council's Audit & Governance Committee. It said that GBNS was brought in immediately to help contain the Brooke Road site when the asbestos was identified.
The report states that the urgency of the situation justified the immediate involvement of GBNS, but it was wrong for the firm to then be given additional work without any tendering process or a formal waiver of the rules.
The work was commissioned by NPS London (NPSL), a firm part-owned by the council to manage its buildings.
It has now agreed to write to all staff reminding them that they must comply with the council's procurement rules in future.
The Audit & Governance Committee's report said what happened was "unacceptable". Mr Tiratsoo said: "The revelations about Brooke Rd become ever more astonishing. Key documentation charting asbestos contamination goes unread.
"Romanian construction workers are put in considerable danger. An ‘independent’ report [commissioned by NPSL] turns out to be produced by a company part-owned by the council, which features the council's chief executive Martin Esom and Cllr Mark Rusling as directors.
"And now we discover procurement rules relating to work on the site are ignored. Surely its time for the local MP, Stella Creasy, to intervene and demand a public inquiry?"
The Guardian has approached Ms Creasy for a response.
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