Council keeps lessons learned from waste debacle under wraps

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

When Scottish Borders Council wrote off £2.2million and ripped up a contract for a waste treatment plant, the public was assured “lessons would be learned”.

But over a year on, the council is declining to disclose the results of a post mortem into the debacle and is claiming the public interest is best served by not doing so.

In February last year, the council scrapped its 24-year multi-million pound deal with New Earth Solutions (NES) for an advanced thermal treatment (ATT) plant at Easter Langlee on the outskirts of Galashiels which had promised to turn 80% of the 43,000 tonnes of rubbish sent to landfill annually into gas and hence into electricity. Having concluded that issues relating to untried technology and funding were insurmountable, the council later admitted it had already spent £2.2m on the abortive project, including £679,000 on a single Edinburgh law firm for procurement advice.

The council has since agreed to close Easter Langlee as a landfill site in 2017 and, thereafter, transfer all waste out of the region.

Last month, retired Borders journalist Bill Chisholm used Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation to ask the council for a breakdown of costs incurred since the contract termination and for “information contained in council documents, reports, emails and other written correspondence detailing the ‘lessons learned’”.

The SBC response reveals that an additional £50,000 has been spent since last February, including over £12,000 on legal expenses and internal fees relating to closing down the NES contract.

A further £38,000 has been expended on external consultants for the new waste management plan involving the decommissioning of Easter Langlee and its impending new role as a waste transfer station.

However, the council has told Mr Chisholm the information he seeks on “lessons learned” is being withheld.

“The purpose of a lessons learned workshop is to critically analyse and examine the project to highlight any things that could or should have been done better, or differently, or not at all or, indeed, to identify other approaches which could have been taken,” states the SBC response.

“This process will only be effective and worthwhile if those participating are free to be open and honest and the information can be properly recorded for internal purposes on that basis.

“If it is likely that the contents of that debate or discussion will be released into the public domain, it would inevitably lead to those people being restrained in their communication and the workshop’s effectiveness being significantly reduced as a result.

“The public interest in securing this free and frank internal communication outweighs any public interest in this particular information being released.”

Mr Chisholm confirmed this week he had submitted a formal request for the council to review its non-disclosure decision.