On 14th May on this website an article appeared entitled Peterborough DNA – Future Cities Demonstrator – Questions Arising.
There it was pointed out that the leading actor in a Peterborough bid for funding from the Technology Strategy Board appeared to redact substantial relevant and conflicting private business interests from the Peterborough City Council Register of Interests during the bidding process.
That information was published here, and two media organisations, one Member of Parliament, and four Peterborough City Councillors were directly advised that this information had been published.
This article was written to inform the Technology Strategy Board themselves, in the absence of any sensible explanation for those apparent redactions, that the integrity of the bidding process was also at stake, and that if no swift action followed at a local level to examine the unexplained relevant and conflicting redactions, it would fall upon them to examine the bidding process itself, and to satisfy themselves that they followed their own procedures when evaluating the bids.
In the event, by the end of June, the Council themselves offered up an explanation for the changes to the Register of Interest, and for why they felt there was no conflict of interest. They can be read at the foot of the post mentioned at the top of this page.
In summary, the changes to the Register of Interests were caused by administrative issues, and in addition there can be no conflict of interest because no particular company will definitely benefit from money awarded. Many could, some might, some might not.
Comments received 5th June 2013 from officers at Opportunity Peterborough deserve the following qualification.
Nothing is known from published documents about the conduct of the bid project itself. It is fair to assume that all correct procedures were carried out during the construction of the bid prior to submission. There is nothing stated here to suggest otherwise. The flaw, if it exists, rests in the fact that the person who signed off the project appeared to have relevant business interests which were missing from the Council Register of Interests during the bidding process.
And since this is clearly evident to anyone looking into this bid who knows the local situation, it unfortunately casts a long shadow over the entire process. That does not imply in any way that the officers who put the bid together failed in their proper duties. Indeed they certainly may have done a very good job indeed. They will be unhappy to see any criticism of their project, having worked on it for so long. Writing on such a very local project, involving people who depend for their livelihood on the success of their efforts, will always prove unpopular. It is not the intention of this website to threaten those livelihoods. It is just unfortunate that a full picture was not apparently provided of the background facts, and that no explanation existed for that omission at the time of writing.
Note: The writer is not a particular fan of the bid, of its ethos or aims. It seems to fall on the side of a “total control matrix” which is a path that can arguably lead to a remote relationship between public servants and their client base. In that sense the writer could be seen to be in opposition to the bid. In effect, the writer and Opportunity Peterborough are on opposing sides in this.
On 5th July 2013 David Willetts (Minister of State (Universities and Science), Business, Innovation and Skills; Havant, Conservative) confirmed in a written answer as follows :
“Since third party contracts would be subject to public procurement rules, it was not possible for applicants to specify which third parties would be undertaking specific project activities in detail. The Technology Strategy Board relies on the public procurement process and the independent auditing of the local authority accounts to ensure that the appropriate processes were followed and value for money secured.”
So it’s good to know that these concerns are on their radar and that they are aware of the risks involved.