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City council broke its procurement rules more than 200 times in 2021-22, external auditors say

Bristol City Council broke its procurement rules on contract awards on 203 occasions in 2021-22, auditors have said.

Auditor Grant Thornton said in its annual audit report to the council that contracts worth £68.7m were involved, some 14% of the total let.

This report noted the council did not have a procurement strategy, which should set out “the council’s vision and aspirations for their procurement process”.

Bristol should also scrutinise and act to reduce contract breaches, so as to reduce the council’s risk exposure, the report said.

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Auditors also criticised the management of a contract for the renovation of the Bristol Beacon arts facility.

Grant Thornton said cost had increased from £52m to £107m and the council “underestimated the complexity and difficulty" of the work

The report said: "The failure to have effective management arrangements in place from the start of the project and to have any cost certainty before entering into the contract has resulted in delays and increased costs.”

It did though praise the council for its overall financial management, noting: “The council had robust arrangements in place for delivering financial sustainability and achieved a surplus of £19.7m for 2020-21 after taking into account covid pressures of £74.7m.”

A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said “The council has strict rules that set out how goods, services and works should be secured and there are strong processes in place to identify when procurement rules and processes have not been followed in full. 

“There are a range of reasons that result in breaches, this for example could include the extension of a contract due to value for money or the aligning of contracts that feed into a wider transformational programme.

“We have already acted to further strengthen our governance process around this issue, and the extra actions the report recommends will be in place shortly – focussing particularly on further training and member scrutiny.”

Mark Smulian

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