Glasgow & West Scotland

North Lanarkshire Council examines controversial repairs deal

Carpenter at work
Image caption North Lanarkshire's Council's housing repairs are carried out by Mears Scotland

The future of a controversial housing repairs contract will be discussed by councillors in North Lanarkshire later.

Mears Scotland has held the contract with the council for four years.

Mears was losing money on the work and councillors will be urged to allow the contract to be renegotiated.

The future of the contract has been caught up in in-fighting between some Labour councillors. Critics believe the work should be put out to tender to give others the chance to compete.

The boss of Mears Scotland, Willie Docherty, is a personal friend of the council leader Jim McCabe, one of Scotland's longest-serving Labour councillors.

Judgement call

Mr McCabe says he has been open about his friendship with Mr Docherty, whose wife Sadie is the Lord Provost of Glasgow, but insists that would not affect his judgement on the contract.

Recently, Labour councillor Tommy Morgan - who had asked some tough questions over the contract - lost his position as convener of the council's audit and governance panel after a vote of confidence.

This was over a group disciplinary matter unconnected with the Mears contract.

Mr Morgan also became involved in a heated discussion with other councillors over a proposed school closure.

With allegations of in-fighting between Labour councillors, the highly-charged atmosphere before the general election has also cast a shadow on the affair.

Labour has an overall majority on North Lanarkshire Council and holds all the Westminster constituencies in the area.

Company takeover

However, the area voted Yes in the independence referendum and the SNP has high hopes locally.

Morrison Scotland, which was 30% owned by the council, won the contract when it was tendered four years ago. The company was later taken over by Mears.

Under the terms of the contract, the company was expected to deliver efficiency savings every year.

The council says Mears has improved the council's repairs service but was losing money on the contract - in part because it had been expected to find efficiency savings every year.

Councillors on the Policy and Resources Committee are expected to vote to allow the contract to be renegotiated.

Other options which were considered included re-tendering or going for a piecemeal approach to repairs.

Council officers believe these options are riskier, could end up costing more than renegotiation, and are more likely to lead to a legal challenge.

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