17:18 Tuesday 4th June 2013
Drive BBC Radio Norfolk
MATTHEW GUDGIN: Let’s hear from County Hall today. The controversial contract for a waste incinerator in Kings Lynn has come under renewed criticism today. Councillors on the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee said they still haven’t had a reliable report on how much it would cost to get out of the contract. They’ve called for an independent report outlining both the costs and the savings which would be made if the County Council cancelled the contract with Anglo-American consortium Cory Wheelabrator. Well our West Norfolk producer Jill Bennett was at the meeting at County Hall today, and is with us in the studio. Jill, why were members of the Committee not happy with the estimates that hed been given by their own officers?
JILL BENNETT: Well the report they had was from Mike Jackson, who’s the Director of Environment, Waste and Transport, and he said that based on figures produced for Cornwall County Council, the cost could be eighty to ninety million pounds, Cornwall in the same sort of position. But that was questioned by Tim East, the LibDem councillor for Costessey. (TAPE)
TIM EAST: If you use the Cornwall example, which I quoted again in my speech, you’ll see that although in similar circumstances, they are looking at the possibilities of cancelling the contract at this moment in time. The fact is that over the twenty five year period of this contract, similar to the Cornwall one, they would actually make savings of two hundred million pounds. So ninety million, compared with a saving of two hundred, up to two hundred million, is small beer. (LIVE)
JILL BENNETT: So they put quite a bit of pressure on Mike Jackson and the Project Director Joel Hull? about the cost. Toby Cook the UKIP group Leader wondered if there was an element of scaremongering in the figures that had been produced for the report. Several councillors said they had been asked by many people why the Council was in this position, before it even had planning permission for the project.
MATTHEW GUDGIN: So Jill what exactly did the Committee agree to today then?
JILL BENNETT: Well firstly the group Leaders and others on a need to know basis would be able to see the full contract, and as you know that’s been a real bone of contention for weeks, months so far. It emerged that only a handful of officers had seen the whole thing so far, and even advisers were only given limited sections, if their expert advice was needed. But Victoria McNeill, the Head of Law at Norfolk County Council said that because of commercial confidentiality, the unedited contract couldn’t be made public. But if councillors on the Committee signed confidentiality agreements, then they could see it. But they stressed that it wasn’t for general distribution.
MATTHEW GUDGIN: And what about the independent report?
JILL BENNETT: Well that was a proposal from UKIP asking the Cabinet to commission the independent report by a QC to nail down the cost to Norfolk County Council, not Cornwall, and they also want the officers to start looking at other ways of dealing with waste which could produce savings for Norfolk. Toby Cook from UKIP said he was very satisfied with the result. (TAPE)
TOBY COOK: I’m very satisfied, because certainly in the recommendation I made recently I think I had more or less unanimity, and that’s amongst all the parties. And that’s a great step forward that we’re all working together. And as you said, this was a recommendation to the cabinet, an independent expert to look at all parts of the contract, with a view to what it really would cost to break the contract voluntarily. (LIVE)
MATTHEW GUDGIN: I wonder though Jill did we hear today from the Conservative councillors who supported this project all the way through?
JILL BENNETT: Well I caught up with Harry Humphrey who’s a West Norfolk councillor, and he’s been a steadfast supporter of the project all the way through. But he’s still happy with that recommendation, and said that the independent report was a good idea. (TAPE)
HARRY HUMPHREY: Well as you know I’ve (UNCLEAR) with the process that was followed all the way through. I’ve been fairly happy that we’ve followed the correct procedures. And the procedures have taken a good number of years, and they’ve gone step by step by step by step. But I realise that there’s so much worry in the public mind about it.And this morning is a way of accepting the fact that if people want to look at it afresh, then I’m OK with that. (LIVE)
MATTHEW GUDGIN: So Jill what’s the next step in this stage then?
JILL BENNETT: Well among the people listening today was the Leader of the Council, George Nobbs. he chairs the Cabinet. he’ll chair that meeting which decides whether or not to go along with the recommendations. And he was a bit non-committal when I talked to him. (TAPE)
GEORGE NOBBS: Obviously if these recommendations are carried out they’ll be taken very very seriously. I can understand why people feel so heated today, because they’ve not had a chance to debate this properly for such a long time. Clearly there are huge issues to consider, not least the effect on the taxpayer and on services. (LIVE)
MATTHEW GUDGIN: And the contractors themselves, Cory Wheelabrator. I understand they were there, but did they comment?
JILL BENNETT: No. Their Press Officer was there, and he was taking copious notes throughout, but he didn’t have any comment to give from the company’s point of view.
MATTHEW GUDGIN: Jill Bennett, thank you.