Bradford to challenge DoE

Cyril Dixon reports

LAWYERS at Bradford City Council are preparing to challenge a government ban which prevents one of its direct labour organisations (DLOs) carrying out municipal services contracts.

Leaders of the West Yorkshire authority are poised to consult counsel on the best way to overturn the decision announced by the Department of Environment two weeks ago.

Minister for the Environment Robert Jones issued a direction preventing the council's Bradmet contracting arm from carrying out highways and sewers work from next April.

The order followed a loss of nearly £1.2 million made by the section on work during the financial year 1993-94. Bradford claims it will effectively shut the DLO, threatening 150 jobs.

Jones says: "This action is part of our continuing commitment to ensuring local authorities provide value for money services. Where authorities have won work in competition and then fail to achieve their financial targets, and where it is not clear that they have taken the steps necessary to improve their performance, we will not hesitate to take appropriate statutory action."

But Bradford reacted swiftly to the announcement by instructing principal solicitor Tim Date to examine possible legal arguments which could be used to block the move.

Council leader Andy Mudd says: "We haven't taken advice from a barrister yet. Thus far the advice is from our internal solicitor. What we would be arguing is that no Secretary of State could reasonably take this action."

He adds: "I am amazed at the action taken by the Department of the Environment.

"The council has been in constant contact with them since the problems within highways first came to light. It seems totally unreasonable and hasty for them to come to their decision before the full facts which have been promised to them become available.

"After all the hard work that has been put in over the past months to turn Bradmet around, it is grossly unfair to take such a draconian decision."

News of the Bradford ban came in an answer to a written Parliamentary question from Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative MP for Chingford.

Smith said that the DoE had issued a warning to 19 councils of the consequences of failing to meet their financial targets in February, by issuing 38 statutory notices.

Bradford was the only authority to suffer the most severe punishment, but other councils were ordered to re-tender all or some work, and others were warned that they could suffer the same fate as Bradford.