In January this year, Fountains, the company that had the contract with the Isle of Wight council (IWC) to clean public toilets around the Island, unexpectedly went out of business.
The council immediately entered into talks with other providers and a deal was signed with Island-based contract cleaning company, Top Mops.
When IWC decided to close many public toilets across the Island, many town and parish councils had to take on the costs of their upkeep, so they could stay open.
This in turn led to many of them needing to increase their precept to pay for items that had previously been paid by IWC.
Invoices 50% higher than expected
With this all accounted for, you can imagine their shock when last month many town and parish clerks receive invoices for toilet cleaning via the council that were considerably higher than they had budgeted for – with a rise of 50% not being uncommon.
The town and parish councils that we spoke said it put them in a very difficult position, concerned that they might not be able to find the money required.
At last week’s full council meeting, Cllr Jonathan Bacon (a barrister), raised the issue of what he called an ‘illegal variation’ of the costs and asked the Cabinet Member responsible, Cllr Edward Giles, why it took so long for the council to advise town and parish councils of the changes.
Caused by serious council understaffing?
Cllr Bacon said,
“This week IWC withdrew invoices in respect of toilet cleaning charges to be paid by various local Parish and Town Councils.
The problem was that the prices were invoiced at a rate sometimes well over 50% in excess of the rate agreed at the beginning of the financial year but which IWC failed to advise PCs and TCs of until last month.
Could the cabinet member explain how it took so long for the increase in price to be notified and why, in effect, an illegal variation of the contract price was attempted?
The net effect is that, because of this failure, IWC has been saddled with increased costs. Is this because the relevant department, as with other departments, is seriously understaffed as a result of the cuts imposed by this administration?”
Invoices shouldn’t have been sent
Cllr Giles started by denying that the relevant department is understaffed.
He confirmed that invoices with increased costs had been sent out, but that as soon as it was brought to his attention, he spoke with officers, who agreed that the invoices shouldn’t have been sent and they withdrew them.
He added that town and parish councils would only pay the costs agreed in April.
Question not answered
Having not answered the question in full, Cllr Bacon had to ask Cllr Giles the question again, “Why did the information come out six months late?”
Cllr Giles replied, “I think – I’d have to check with the officers – but I imagine they invoice for the first six months of the year and they have now invoiced for the second six months. I don’t see what councillor Bacon’s problem is and why he is shaking his head.”
Who will pay additional costs?
One important question that Cll Bacon raised, but Cllr Giles didn’t answer was who will be covering the additional costs submitted by Top Mops. On top of that what is going to happen in April when costs for the new financial year are set?
Will the Isle of Wight council continue to pay the difference or will town and parish councils need to stump up, in some cases, up to 50% more to pay the cleaning contractors?
We’ll put these questions to Cllr Giles and report back in a follow-up article.
(When researching this article we contacted Top Mops for comment, but they did not respond.)
Image: © Tax Brackets