Latrobe Valley a ‘client of least desire’

THE Victorian head of a body representing civil contractors across the country says public infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley will be stymied if a new council procurement policy is upheld tonight.

Civil Contractors Federation chief executive John Stewart described Latrobe City Council’s procurement policy as “archaic” and out of sync with most other Victorian municipalities, making Latrobe the “client of least desire” for contractors to deal with.

Council voted last month to approve the major overhaul of how it spends its money, from the purchase of office equipment, to large construction projects.

It will limit the amount of expenditure managers are allowed to authorise without councillors first voting on the matter.

Developed by councillors Michael Rossiter and Dale Harriman, the policy includes heavy scrutiny of the way council building projects are carried out, with the majority of building variations now having to go to a council meeting for approval.

“Typically you get variations because you can’t see what’s under the ground,” Mr Stewart said.

“By the time it takes to get that variation to council, which meets twice a month, and get approval, a contractor will demand an extension and delay costs.

“Latrobe will become a client of least desire to deal with.”

Mr Stewart said where clients were considered “high risk” of delay or disputes, contractors factored in extra costs.

The CCF represents 72 Gippsland contractors and has written to council to express its opposition to the policy ahead of tonight’s meeting when Cr Darrell White will put forward a motion to repeal the policy’s adoption.

One local developer said while the policy may have intended to increase efficiency and accountability, it would in fact create a “culture of rule-bending” as the only way of progressing construction projects and avoiding long delays.

“Councillors are basically micro-managing policy that they’ve got people paid over $100,000 a year to do,” the developer said.

“Council officers and contractors will have to put additional contingencies into contracts in order to avoid heading back to council chambers to ratify decisions that would ordinarily be made at officer level.”

The developer, who did not wish to be named, said he had been approached by at least 15 people from the Valley’s business community expressing concerns about the policy.

Cr Harriman hit back on Friday, saying the policy was “not aimed at appeasing developers”, rather it was designed to get the “best practices and results for ratepayers”.

“We have jobs blowing out by 100 per cent and councillors not being told,” Cr Harriman said.

“This will stop that and rein in free spending happening without councillors knowing.”

Cr White said council was already using best practice guidelines and had safeguards through auditing.

Tonight’s public gallery is expected to be packed, with Moe business and lobby groups meeting last week in a bid to mobilise the broader community in opposing the policy.

Advance Morwell president John Guy has also expressed his opposition to the changes, labelling them an “administrative nightmare”.

If councillor positions remain as they were when the policy was adopted last month, The Express predicts crs Harriman, Rossiter, Sharon Gibson and Peter Gibbons will vote to uphold the policy and crs White, Graeme Middlemiss, Kellie O’Callaghan and Christine Sindt will vote to repeal it.

A decision will then come down to mayor Sandy Kam, who was absent for the previous vote.

A council officer’s report had previously warned implementation of the procurement policy would cost ratepayers $2.49 million over 10 years and result in “significant and unreasonable disruptions and delays”, damaging council’s reputation in the community and impacting on its ability to attract state and federal funding.