Saturday, April 21, 2012

Q&A part 1

Here are the answers I have given to a couple of questions posed on the Orkney Forum.

What do you think about pedestrianisation of the Town Centre?

As an individual and as a member of the Kirkwall and St Ola community council back in 2005/2006 I lobbied hard (successfully) against the wild plans that would have seen Broad Street pedestrianised, Junction Road and Great Western Road (and West Castle Street, W. Tankerness Lane and Burnmouth Road) made narrower and one-way.

My attitude hasn't changed. Those proposals would have been a disaster, with the Broad Street through traffic having to fight its way through St Catherines Place and the foot of the Clay Loan, already Kirkwall's worst bottlenecks.

With regard to Broad Street, the situation we have now is fine - it can be closed for special occasions, and the occasions are more special because of the novelty.

I wouldn't change how Victoria Street operates, i.e. cars can access the shops there, and the on street parking functions as free short stay parking. Victoria Street is doing okay these days, as a result.

But Albert Street isn't. I'm coming round to the idea that it should be opened up if anything, and perhaps go back to the way it was (and Victoria Street is).
Doesn't solve the 'Boy and Girl Racer' problem though - but enforcement of the existing 'For access' criteria, and a loooow speed limit might. Or (as was proposed) having greater restrictions outwith shopping hours.

The residents would probably be happier if the rattly sires were replaced with ones that didn't clatter when anything went over it.

So I'm not in favour of pedestrianisation of the town centre. As I suggested in 2005, we'd probably end up with a desolate gum-spattered skatepark.


Procurement- should the OIC keep it local?

Short answer- yes, where possible.

But the 'where possible' is the envelope that needs to be pushed.

The background is that there are a number of schemes that the Council has been pressured to participate in: Scotland Excel, Procurement Scotland, the 'Hubco' for big construction projects.

The attraction is that you can buy things at a price that at least seems good, and also avoid having to go through costly EU procurement exercises for everything. Bundled groups of types of items (e.g. stationery, vehicles...) are offered by the contract winner, and councils can buy from a list under Framework Agreements.

The downside is that it is a bitch for local companies to participate, a long contract means the price may not always good, and while reference items on the pricelist offered may be good, things not listed in the tender document can be dear. Hence the MOD and their £35 light bulbs.

Also there can be an element of compulsion- the Hubco might mean that the new hospital has to go through it, which would mean Miller will build it. The question would be whether the Care Facilities that will be attached to it, funded by the OIC, can be kept separate.

I've opposed joining all three of the procurement arrangements listed, with little support generally as it is viewed as inevitable that the OIC has to join. The OIC has at least been the last to join, generally.

But I do think that the opinions are changing on the council. I worked with officers to get a purchasing model of a Local Framework Agreement used to tender for contracts recently, which let local businesses participate, although the outcome was mixed. Still it showed it can be done - we need to get quality and local economic benefit dialled in as tender criteria in the future. This has helped the council realise that centralised procurement may not be inevitable.

Also last year Jack Moodie and Davie Tullock led a successful move whereby contracts up to a certain level need only be advertised locally.

The council needs to keep it legal too. Big contracts have to be advertised in the European Journal, and our wriggle room is in how they are worded and scored. Value for money needs to be demonstrated, or the council could be providing illegal State Aids.

Ending on a positive note, a good number of contracts do go local. The councillors are called in to witness the opening of tenders, and the ones I've done have seen local firms do OK. A big recent contract was the Lyness Phase 1 (or was it 2) that Curries did. I think Clouston's did the Finstown council houses. etc.

This is off the top of my head, so I don't claim 100% accuracy with scheme names and the more involved bits, but the thrust of my argument is there, i.e. I think the council should bend over backwards to give local firms the chance to compete on a level playing field, taking account of wider benefits to the community.

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