Westminster Lodge project still on track despite contractor difficulties

BUILDING work on the new Westminster Lodge is still set to get underway in January despite the chosen contractors going into receivership.

St Albans council chief executive Daniel Goodwin said the “time line remains steady” and the new leisure centre should open in 2012 as planned even though Irish building firm Michael McNamara and Co has gone to the wall.

But his assertion that all the necessary checks on the construction company were carried out and gave no indication that it was likely to fail has been questioned by David Gilroy, a founder member of the PoolTooSmall action group to campaign for a larger pool than the one proposed.

Mr Goodwin maintained that prior to the cabinet decision on November 2 to award the contract to McNamara, leading credit risk analysts Dun and Bradstreet had carried out checks on the company and other tenderers which did not raise any financial concerns that officers felt should be brought to cabinet attention either before or at the meeting.

The cabinet made the decision to award the contract to McNamara on the basis of further financial checks which were taking place when news broke that the company had gone into receivership. No contracts had been signed.

Mr Gilroy has called on Mr Goodwin to provide hard documentary evidence that the latter checks were being carried out between the date of cabinet and notification of receivership.

And he has questioned why the public was told that McNamara had won the contract on November 2 when online checks by PoolTooSmall revealed the construction company was in trouble and the state of economy in Ireland was already becoming clear.

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He is also asking who is responsible for the “blunder” claiming that it is not good enough to blame an external financial consultant and that someone on the council’s project team should have ensured independently that they were not being given a duff report.

Mr Gilroy is calling on the district auditor to investigate the situation and described the project as “technically, financially and professionally flawed.”

A meeting of a council overview and scrutiny committee to consider the financial vetting process used to appoint McNamara is being held in St Albans council chamber at 7pm on Tuesday, December 14.

Chair Cllr Geoffrey Turner said: “The committee wants to look at the vetting process to make sure it was done thoroughly and professionally and within proper safeguards.”