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Norfolk’s road scheme blocked after breaking procurement rules

A major road-building contract in Norfolk awarded to a team including contractor May Gurney and consultant Mott MacDonald has been blocked by government after complaints that the scheme broke EU procurement rules.

Norfolk County Council (NCC) awarded the £92M contract for the Northern Distributor Route (NDR), north of Norwich, directly to the team with which it has a long-term framework contract in July without advertising for bids.

But following a tip-off by opponents to the scheme, the Department for Transport (DfT) has told the council that it cannot award such a large contract without some form of competitive tender.

Reacting to the ruling, NCC this week claimed that putting the contract out to tender would not achieve value for money as the current industry squeeze on resources meant no serious rival bidder would have emerged.

“Our view has always been that working in partnership with May Gurney towards the signing of a contract to build the NDR would have paid dividends for the public, both in terms of cost-effectiveness and efficiency,” said director of planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council Mike Jackson.

“Having taken expert advice, and been told that ours was a reasonable stance, it is disappointing to hear from the Department for Transport that their view is that the scheme will need to go out to tender.”

But the ‘No’ to the NDR Group, which opposes the scheme, welcomed the decision.

“Norfolk wanted to sign up May Gurney on the basis of an existing strategic partnership contract on grounds that few firms would bid in the run-up to the Olympic Games,” it said. “Interim advice from Government lawyers says the arrangement would be ‘inappropriate’, contradicting legal advice obtained by Norfolk.”

May Gurney chief executive David Sterry told NCE that it was confident that a new competitive tendering process would show the May Gurney-led team would provide the best value.

“We always knew our appointment was subject to DfT approval, but we believe our partnership will bring the lowest cost output,” Sterry said.
It is now feared that the cost of the scheme, due to start on site in 2010, will now rise.

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