Politics of Procurement

European Commission investigates Glasgow Housing Association’s failure to openly tender

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) is a private not-for-profit company created by the Scottish Government for the purpose of owning and managing Glasgow’s social housing stock. The housing stock, of approximately 81,000 houses and flats, was previously owned by the Glasgow City Council.

Following a poll of the Council’s tenants, the vast majority of their social housing was transferred to the ownership of the Glasgow Housing Association. The transfer was mired in controversy at the time, there was a strong No campaign backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and many commentators doubted that there was a genuine desire on the part of the tenants to transfer to another landlord. However, a condition of having Glasgow’s housing debt written off was a transfer whole stock. This was initially going to be to one landlord, however, the Scottish Government intervened and introduced the concept of Second Stage Transfer (SST) to smaller Housing Associations over time.

Taroub Zahran, the Chief Executive of Glasgow Housing Association, resigned from her position at the end of Taroub Zahran Former Chief Executive - Glasgow Housing AssociationSeptember after what was believed to have been disagreements with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council over the slow speed of stock transfer.

A total of 322 tenants in Glasgow transferred to a new landlord at the end of July following the transfer of homes from Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) to two community-based housing associations under the Second Stage Transfer process.

Provanhall Housing Association took control of 195 homes, and another 127 houses in Hyndland were transferred to Glasgow West Housing Association.

Provanhall and Glasgow West join Shettleston, Ardenglen, Cassiltoun and Parkhead housing associations which took ownership of GHA homes in March this year.

A further 21 Local Housing Organisations who currently manage approximately 19,000 houses on behalf of GHA are still progressing through the various stages of the SST process. Ballots for a further four potential transfers are planned for this calendar year, with transfer potentially by the end of the financial year.

The European Commission, who will have begun their investigation following a complaint, has asked the UK Government to provide further information on how these contracts were awarded as it believes that they were public service contracts and as such should have been awarded on the basis of an open and transparent tendering process. If the European Commission is correct that no open tendering process was conducted, the UK will have failed to fulfill its obligations under the Public Procurement Directive 2004/18/EC.

The penalty for failing to fulfill such obligations is often simply that the relevant member state has to demonstrate that it has taken measures to rectify the situation and to prevent a future re-occurrence. Although sometimes, if it is not satisfied with the action that has been taken, the Commission will ask the European Court of Justice to impose a financial penalty.

In 2004 the Commission sought to impose daily fines against Germany for two long term (30 years) waste contracts that had not been correctly tendered.The fines sought were €31,680 per day for the City of Bockhorn contract and €126,720 per day for the City of Brunswick contract, which would be payable until the illegal contracts had been cancelled. That’s €58 million per year for 30 years!

The German government were in a bit of a sticky situation here, as it was the City authorities that had entered into the contracts and so the Government had no direct authority. Fortunately they managed to negotiate an agreement annulling the contracts.

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