CCTV cameras are finally given the green light

Town councillors have approved a tender for Berwick's new CCTV system but only after a heated row in the council chamber.

Friday, 25th March 2016, 10:56 am
Paul Hodgson, Berwick CCTV
Paul Hodgson, Berwick CCTV

There were raised voices and angry exchanges as Mayor Hazel Bettison told councillors ‘to stop squabbling like a bunch of children’.

The issue has been on the agenda since it emerged the current CCTV system is broken and cannot be properly fixed.

At Monday’s meeting, Margaret Straughan, branch chairman of the Licensed Victuallers Assocation, expressed fresh concerns about the lack of camera coverage with the tourist season looming.

“Last weekend was a really busy one and we’ve got Easter coming up but there’s no CCTV protection in the town,” she said.

Cllr Paul Hodgson agreed: “The town needs security and safety for its community.”

However, he soon found himself forced to deny any wrong-doing in the tendering process.

He told the finance committee earlier this month that he and the clerk had been through the applications and decided on the winner.

But Cllr Georgina Hill said: “The council had agreed to approve CCTV, up to £15,000 and we said we would put it out to tender.

“However, we did not agree a process, evaluation criteria, tender panel, who was going to open envelopes or any delegation whatsoever. Then at finance committee the chairman suddenly announces the winning company has been chosen.

“We are being asked to rubberstamp a decision made by a tender panel which was not appointed. I know we want to get things done but it has to be done lawfully.

“Two people met up and approved it. The long and short of it is that they had no authority. It looks very bad and the whole process is now tainted. If this goes ahead, this council has no credibility.”

She also raised concerns that Cllr Hodgson had mentioned AGS Security, one of the bidders, in a press statement in December.

However, Cllr Hodgson said this was because AGS had offered to provide a temporary fix of a CCTV camera overlooking Golden Square to assist Northumbria Police over the Christmas period.

He explained that he had sought advice from David Francis, of the Northumberland Association of Local Councils, who said it did not appear to be a case of pre-determination.

Relying to Cllr Hill, he said: “You obviously don’t understand the tendering process. First of all the clerk trawled the internet and contacted a number of companies. They were willing to come to this town and the one mentioned in the newspaper article was one. They all did a survey of the town and its camera locations. Whilst attending, AGS Security asked the police if they could get some sort of fix in place to cover the busy festive period.

“I made a recommendation based on the proper evaluation criteria and that process is the model followed by Brentford Council. It’s a tried and tested process.”

Cllr Hodgson also emphasised that he and the clerk had complied with the council’s standing orders.

“I have also sought legal advice in relation to this matter,” he revealed. “Our standing orders say that tenders should be opened by the clerk in the presence of at least one councillor.

“My legal advice is that the clerk and I have complied with our standing orders and this process is not unlawful. In terms of evaluation, the tenders were blind, submitted without any information about the company themselves. They were known as Company 1, Company 2 and Company 3. The evaluation criteria was based on 60 per cent technical and 40 per cent cost in terms of determining the most economically advantageous bid.”

Cllr Catherine Seymour read an email from audit advisor Stephen Warren who felt it was an issue of perception.

He added: “While I fully accept that nothing irregular might have happened, the combination of a tender evaluation process that was not specifically endorsed by the council and publicity that might be perceived as not demonstrating complete impartiality gives rise to the risk of adverse publicity and possible challenge.”

A proposal by Cllr Hill to restart the tendering process was defeated and Cllr Jeanette Beresford’s proposal to approve the tender was agreed.