Highlands and Islands Enterprise appointed McGowan, an Aviemore contractor, to undertake the “clear-up” that is currently being undertaken at Cairngorm. This has involved removal of potentially re-usable lift infrastructure from Coire na Ciste and has ignored environmental standards (see here). HIE have now provided, as a result of FOI requests, information ITT Report – Redacted about HOW McGowan was appointed. However, as yet they have provided no further information about the specification of the works, which would have shown what standards should have been applied. What the latest information shows is the McGowan were appointed purely on price, with no regard for quality.
This contravenes the Scottish Government’s statutory guidance and procurement reform programme which has, over the last few years, introduced numerous measures to ensure all tenders for works or services funded by the public purse take wider enviromental, social and economic factors into account. HIE appears however is a law unto itself and the consequences have been quite predictable:
HIE’s consultant, an ex-Natural Retreats employer, told the Cairngorms National Park Authority that the lift infrastructure in Coire na Ciste would be removed by helicopter. Instead, McGowan has removed them by truck (see here). The result is:
Our public authorities need to explain how this is acceptable when, during the construction of the funicular just round the hill, they required contracts to restore every stone the right way up and practically protect every blade of grass? All the historical standards that have ever been agreed for Cairngorm are now just being ignored and the way contracts are being tendered and awarded at Cairngorm is one of the main mechanisms behind this race to the bottom. The mountain, and the people who visit it, deserve far far more.
The tender process and award
Rather than taking direct responsibility for the tender process, HIE appointed Torrance Limited Liability Partnership to carry out the process for them by means of the quick quote system:
The Quick Quote system is supposed to be used only for “low risk” procurement exercises. Given all the things that had gone wrong with the works in Coire Cas last year, with needless destruction of soils and vegetation (see here for example) and the wilful disregard of planning requirements (see here), its pretty clear that the risks associated with works at Cairngorm are not low and that this process was not appropriate. The explanation for its use may be that HIE was very aware of the Save the Ciste Group’s proposals to re-instate skiing in Coire na Ciste and the Quick Quote process allowed it to get rid of the re-usable elements of the lift infrastructure as quickly as possibly.
The report on the tender shows that HIE did not ask Torrance LLP to consider the quality of the bids received:
While the 0% for quality speaks for itself, contractors were “encouraged” to provide information about their relevant experience. However, they were NOT “required” to do so. The obvious question is whether McGowan, in their bid, explained that they were the contractor who had ignored the planning conditions set by the Cairngorms National Park Authority for the new Shieling rope tow? If they hadn’t, HIE knew all about the record of McGowan at Cairngorm and the report makes clear they were asked for comment. HIE found the information “to be in order and compliant” which indicates they have manipulated the process to prevent consideration of past quality issues.
Note how the price compared favourably with works undertaken by McGowan at Coire Cas that had helped destroy the reputation of Natural Retreats and brought the National Park into disrepute. Despite this HIE decided it was acceptable to agree to more of the same.
The ostensible explanation for this is the bids from other contractors (their names and the amounts of their bids were redacted by HIE) were apparently considerably higher:
I suspect that if the other contractors bids had built in quality and they knew about this they would have had every justification to appeal the decision under procurement law.
The statement that McGowan has a good working relationship with Natural Retreats and Cairngorm tells you is all three organisations are in this together when it comes to undermining the Cairngorms National Park and standards at Cairngorm. HIE has every chance to learn from what has gone wrong in the past and its clear that it does not want to do so. This is post-truth procurement and part of a post-truth approach to the management of Cairngorm which, like the neo-liberals, claims all is going well and there is no alternative when the evidence tells you the opposite.
Fortunatately, an alternative is now getting off the ground:I believe anyone who cares about Cairngorm needs to get behind and help the Aviemore and Glenmore Community trust to take over ownership of Cairngorm and develop an alternative plan.
No-one is denying that a clean-up at Cairngorm was well due. There are things that Natural Retreats could have cleared up if it had cared about anything than extracting from the place:
Its the failure of HIE to consult on what infrastructure could potentially have been renovated or re-used, their wilful abandonment of standards and the questions of how the damage that has been done will be restored that are the issues.
Since HIE has not released any information on the specification of the works, it appears they want to keep secret how the land affected by the removal of the lift infrastructure will be restored. One of the things that the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust should be able to bring to Cairngorm is management based on transparency and informed by those who care about the place.