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Case update 11 November 2022

Transparency has prevailed this time

You may recall the tiny and obscure company Place Group, which was awarded an eye-watering £70bn framework agreement seemingly to help with the country’s Net Zero aspirations.

Place Group, a two-employee company based in Cornwall, was offered the contract by the equally unheard of firm East of England Broadband Network (E2BN) – a move which raised more questions than any fair process should.

Good Law Project filed a judicial review in August as we believe the award of the contract was unlawful. We demanded E2BN be transparent about the deal and fill in the gaps left behind.

In response to our legal action, E2BN has now pulled the billion-pound framework agreement with Place Group, citing “commercial expediency” in the face of a potential trial.

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Why was E2BN allowed to write such a poor framework agreement and hand it to Place Group – a company whose focus is in education, with seemingly little experience in reducing emissions?

How is it Place Group ended up being the only business to submit a tender for the right to administer the framework?

On the face of it, E2BN appeared to have created a convenient situation in which Place Group were given oversight over contracts worth as much as half the size of the NHS’s annual allowance, and was able to award contracts loosely based on climate issues to unspecified suppliers without the proper open, transparent or fair competition.

It stressed to us it does not have any interests tied to Place Group.

Framework agreements set out terms under which a public body may purchase goods or services without further open tender. When contracts are awarded through the agreement, the usual rules about open advertisement and competition do not apply.

This “Everything Net Zero” agreement would have allowed Place Group the opportunity to control how projects aimed at reducing the country’s carbon emissions were tendered from the entire public sector – from local government offices to the NHS.

The figures were huge and the rules were loose – practically open-ended in the kinds of services that might be bought under it.

We are adamant the drive for Net Zero, one of the most important challenges the country is facing, will not serve as a platform for more shady, closed-door procurements.

We are now agreeing with the other side how the costs of the litigation should be borne – but are delighted that transparency has prevailed this time.

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