Council in clear over £2m waste plant write-off

Galashiels Community Waste Recycling Centre & Easter Langlee Landfill Site.
Galashiels Community Waste Recycling Centre & Easter Langlee Landfill Site.

Scottish Borders Council has been cleared by external auditors over a failed contract which saw nearly £2m written off by the local authority.

Although KPMG’s audit of the council’s accounts for 2014/15 will not be made public until the end of this month, The Berwickshire has learned that the firm is satisfied with the process which saw the contract for a multi-million pound waste treatment plant at Easter Langlee in Galashiels terminated in February this year.

The impending absolution by the auditors, who are charging the council a fee of £302,000 for doing the annual books, is revealed by national spending watchdog Audit Scotland.

“The auditors [KPMG] advise that they have considered the termination of the waste management contract as part of this year’s audit work and that they are content with the process followed,” said Sally Thomson of Audit Scotland.

“The auditors’ conclusions and comments will be included in the audit highlights memo which will go to the council’s audit committee on September 28 and will be available to the public thereafter.”

The all-clear vindicates comments made last month by SBC’s chief financial officer David Robertson, who advised councillors they had “nothing to worry about” from the audit.

He said terminating the contract with New Earth Solutions (NES) – on a no fault, no cost basis – had been the “right thing to do”.

At that meeting, when it was agreed to export all the region’s rubbish for treatment outwith the Borders from 2017, Councillor Catriona Bhatia (Tweeddale West) cautioned against colleagues gloating. “We should be careful not to congratulate ourselves too much on getting out of this sticky situation, for we have been around the houses with this since 2008 when the procurement process began and it has cost us a lot of money to get nowhere,” she said.

In March, 2011, SBC signed a 24-year deal with NES for a mechanical biological treatment (MTB) composting plant at Easter Langlee.

But in October 2012 the council agreed in private to a deed of variation for the delivery instead of a heat-generating advanced thermal treatment (ATT) solution.

Mr Robertson explained last month that a “detailed due diligence review” at the end of 2014 concluded that the ATT contract should be scrapped because the technology was untested – something all councillors had been aware of in 2012 – and NES could not attract the required funding.