Shetland MSP Tavish Scott is demanding an explanation as to why a local consortium was unable to bid for the main contract to build the new Anderson High School.
Last week The Shetland Times revealed that a joint approach from DITT, Hunter & Morrison and Tulloch Developments had been rejected.
Hub North Scotland (hubco), the organisation tasked with delivering several new schools in the north of Scotland, last week awarded the contract to Miller Construction.
The company is part of the Miller Group, one of the UK’s largest building firms and joint shareholder in the Alba partnership, which owns 60 per cent of hubco and controls its day-to-day decisions.
Mr Scott said the fact the company had members on the hubco board and effectively awarded a contract “to themselves” did “at least pose some questions”.
“We need to know how this very important project for the future of Shetland education was awarded,” he said.
DITT director Peter Tait said the three firms would be asking “some serious questions” at a meeting with representatives of hubco and Millers next month.
Although hubco wrote back to the companies informing them that it would not entertain a tender from a local consortium, they are unhappy at the “lack of clarity” in explaining why.
“Our main concern, I suppose, is the misinformation and inconsistencies in what we’ve been told up to now,” Mr Tait said.
This newspaper asked hubco for a clear explanation of its decision to freeze out the consortium.
In response, its development director Fraser Innes stated: “The supply chain strategy to deliver the requirements for the programme of schools is to use the established supply chain which were [sic] derived through competitive tendering.
“This has been further benchmarked and considered on the basis of a programme approach and has already realised a potential saving in excess of £2 million.
“This also brings the required experience, resources and commitment to the standard form contracts which are required by Scottish Government as part of these revenue funded projects.”
Millers is now expected to put out four fifths of the work to tender and 18 local contractors and consultants have expressed an interest in being involved. But Mr Tait said it was unclear how much subcontracted work might go to home-grown firms.
“There’s a rule within the hub process that 80 per cent has to be tendered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean 80 per cent awarded,” he said.
“Anecdotal evidence [of the schools for the future programme] in other areas suggests the amount being done locally is considerably less.”
Speaking following a meeting with members of the building trade on Friday, Mr Scott said he was disappointed the local consortium had been denied a “fair crack at this enormous tender”.
“It would have been fair to have allowed them to tender to the build the new AHS,” he said. “That would have added to the competition because we still don’t know the tender price that Miller Group submitted and who else was allowed to tender.
“I’m now going to ask the chief executive of hubco to come north to Shetland to sit down to local industry and explain why they didn’t get this opportunity.”
He added: “This unfortunately looks like yet more centralisation of procurement, stopping our local trade at least having the right to put a price in for a big job.
“I am sure a very close eye will be kept on Millers to see what work they do award to Shetland business.”
In the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon told Mr Scott he would get the answers he was looking for.
Ms Sturgeon said it was anticipated that local companies would tender for subcontracted work. That would ensure not only that Shetland would get a “fantastic new facility”, but that some of the £36 million project’s economic benefits would stay in Shetland.
Visiting the islands this week, Scottish finance minister John Swinney said hubco had to comply with the “constraints” of the EU’s regime for awarding public sector contracts.
“The tendering process has got to be undertaken in an open fashion,” he said. “Judgements have to be taken about the companies that are taking that forward.”