Wandsworth makes second tender stab

Nicole Maley reports

WANDSWORTH Borough Council has called for expressions of interest on its controversial litigation tender.

The five-year contract, the subject of a critical report prepared by the council's in-house legal team earlier this year, includes routine and non-routine litigation work in departments throughout the authority.

The council is expected to issue invitations to tender by 31 January 1995, with a closing date of 31 March. The contract period will start on 1 July 1995.

Wandsworth's lawyers were demoralised after last year's contracting out of legal work in the property department. The tender was initially awarded to the council team but, after a complaint from one of the bidding firms, the three lowest tenderers were offered the chance to review their bids.

The work was subsequently split and non-routine conveyancing remained in-house while the routine work was awarded to Ipswich-based Gotelee & Goldsmith.

Council lawyers later handed a report to Wandsworth's policy and finance committee highlighting their concerns over the next phase of the borough's tendering programme – litigation work.

Staff claimed the plans were "seriously flawed" and fought against the council's decision to exceed the Government's recommended tendering minimum of 45 per cent by placing approximately 66 per cent of legal work out.

Borough solicitor Martin Walker says this includes property, litigation, social services, and a "mixed bag" of planning, highways, and contracts.

Walker says the legal team will shrink from 28 solicitors and legal executives, to six solicitors who will handle the core client work.

If the in-house team fails in its bid, the future of the council's remaining lawyers will be uncertain. Walker confirms the tender documents will not provide for the transfer of staff.

He says Wandsworth "has a clear and well-established policy on competition" and believes strongly in its benefits.

"Our experience is that significant financial savings follow from exposing services, whether manual or white collar, to competitive tendering," says Walker.

Walker expects a wide range of City and provincial firms to bid for the contract, which will be awarded on financial and non-financial criteria.