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Council ordered to make specific disclosure in dispute over £120m procurement

A Deputy High Court judge has ordered a local authority to make early specific disclosure to a leisure services provider bringing a claim over a recent £120m concession procurement.

The ex tempore ruling was made in Wealden Leisure Limited v Mid-Sussex District Council HC14F01304 (16 July 2014) by Andrew Hochauser QC, sitting in the Chancery Division.

Wealden, the claimant, was the incumbent provider but lost out to Places for People Leisure.

According to 11KBW, one of whose barristers (Joseph Barrett) is acting for the company, Wealden launched proceedings after being told that Mid Sussex’s preferred bid was in the region of 20% cheaper than its own proposal.

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The claimant has expressed concern that the preferred bid was “abnormally low, unsustainable and non-compliant”.

Wealden's concerns “were heightened when it discovered that the council had permitted the preferred bidder to make significant changes to its pricing submission after final tenders were opened”, the chambers said. “The council admitted that it had allowed the preferred bidder to increase its stated costs figures by more than £200,000 per annum.”

Mid Sussex refused a request for early specific disclosure of the final tenders it received.

Wealden, which had previously proposed that disclosure would be restricted to a confidentiality ring of its lawyers and an independent expert, applied to the High Court.

It argued that it needed the information to allow it to properly plead its case that the preferred bid was abnormally low.

The Deputy High Court judge ordered the council to disclose the entirety of the final tenders, 11KBW said.

Mid Sussex also agreed – following a suggestion made by the judge – to disclose the evaluation documents evidencing what, if any, investigation it had conducted regarding the sustainability of the preferred bid.

The council was ordered to pay the claimant’s costs in full.

Tom Clark, Solicitor to Mid Sussex, said the authority would be vigorously defending the claim.

He added: “The council conducted the procurement exercise fairly and properly in accordance with its obligations. At the end of the process, it awarded the contract to Places for People Leisure a competitor of Wealden, having been satisfied that their bid was sustainable and viable and that it would provide the best and most effective service.

"On 1 July 2014, the council entered into a contract with PfPL, who have been operating the leisure facilities within the Mid Sussex since that date.” 

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