Warrington libraries contract 'against rules', say auditors

Great Sankey Leisure Centre
Image caption Livewire Warrington runs libraries and leisure centres across the town

A £3.8m contract to run a town's libraries and leisure services was awarded "contrary" to council rules and the law, its auditors have said.

Other companies were not invited to bid for the Warrington Borough Council deal before it was awarded to Livewire Warrington in 2012.

In July, internal auditors said "no procurement exercise" was carried out.

The council said legal advice suggested "no rules were broken" and the time limit for a legal challenge had passed.

The contract was awarded "contrary to the council's constitution" as well as EU regulations and the UK's Public Contract Regulations 2006, according to the auditor's comments which were contained within a report by regeneration manager Steve Park.

Under government guidelines, the procurement of public sector contracts must be based on "value for money", which should be "achieved through a process of competition, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary".

The document seen by the BBC said "no procurement exercise" was carried out when not-for-profit company Livewire (Warrington) was formed to take over the authority's libraries and leisure services.

The community interest company manages the services with a budget of approximately £12m per year and is paid a £3.8m annual management fee by the council.

WBC chief executive Steven Broomhead said "the council's legal advice is that no rules were broken" and "the auditor did not have all the information available".

"Furthermore, external and internal advice was that there was no obligation under EU procurement rules regarding the procurement and award of the contract."

He said the time limit for a legal challenge had "long since passed".

Livewire Warrington declined to comment.

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