‘Westminster parking bosses pretended they were cleared of EU wrongdoing’

Letter shows European Commission had found that council breached tendering laws over contract

WESTMINSTER Council is under fire for claiming it had been cleared of wrongdoing over a parking contract when an EU letter suggests it knew otherwise.

The council’s Partners in Parking (PiP) contract with Verrus was investigated by the EU amid claims it was extended to other boroughs without being retendered. The contract allows councils to join together for cheaper parking services.

But a letter given to MEP Gerard Batten says: “On 20 November 2009, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice (LFN) to the United Kingdom authorities. In this, the Commission considered that Westminster City Council has infringed EU law. In response to the LFN, the United Kingdom authorities recognised the Commission’s allegations and committed to take appropriate and adequate measures for the purpose of terminating the infringement in question.”

As a result of the ruling, only those authorities originally listed in the PiP contract could continue to use the Verrus contract.

But on November 8 this year, a Westminster statement stated that the EU investigation had “cleared the authority of any wrongdoing”.

Speaking at the time, Westminster’s parking boss Cllr Lee Rowley: “We always maintained that this contract was properly awarded following a tender process carried out in accordance with the law and the council’s procurement processes.”

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Warren Djanogly, of the No To The Bike Parking Tax campaign group, said: “They were taken to the EU and found guilty by commissioners.

“But they didn’t want anybody else to know that was the case so they worked on the basis that they could appease the EU and no-one would be any the wiser.

“When they issued their recent release, they basically said: ‘We told you we had done it within the law.’ But they hadn’t.

“They knew very well that they had done wrong and it turns out they had known since November 2009. This is very serious stuff. They were just telling everyone a whole pack of lies.”

Speaking this week, Cllr Rowley said: “Our assertion that we had been cleared of any wrongdoing was based on the fact that the Office for Government Commerce had said that the Commission had formally closed the case. It was also based on the EU saying there had been a satisfactory outcome to its investigation.

“Our earlier statement did not intend to mislead anyone and it’s important to note that there was no punitive action taken by the EU against the council. Indeed, if the council had committed a serious wrongdoing then the case would have been escalated to the European Court.”