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More outdoor equipment for Berwick.

As part of its mission to scrutinise local government spending, The Bridge took a deep dive into Berwick Town Council’s process behind the purchase of equipment for Spittal Play Park in 2022.

Berwick Town Council voted to spend around £7,000 of Berwick residents’ cash on a replacement trampoline for Flagstaff Park. The decision to replace with new, rather than repair or investigate the warranty cover, was approved at 22 April Council meeting. At the same meeting a working group was formed to consult on the purchase of further outdoor equipment for elsewhere in the town.

The full cost of the replacement trampoline was not given in the Minutes which state the item will be paid from Reserves. The cost can be estimated based on a similar item installed as part of the Spittal Play Park (SPP) refurbishment in 2022. 

That project saw a complete overhaul of SPP at a cost to Berwick residents of £242,848 paid out of cash reserves. The work followed an inspection by an independent specialist stating that 84% of the existing equipment was deemed ‘Low Risk’. The report stated the swings installed in 2014 had ‘indicative end of operating life of 2029’. 

During the procurement discussions one councillor, the late Alex Gibson, queried why Playdale, the original supplier of much of the equipment, was not to be contracted for the remedial work rather than replace with new. The response he was given was there would be a competition process.

In a newspaper article on 19 January 2022, the Council announced it would borrow money for the SPP work on the basis that ‘much of the equipment in the play park has come to the end of its working life’;  The Council proposed spending ‘up to £250,000…borrowing up to £200,000 from the government. 

‘If we don’t raise the money, the alternative is closing the site and no play park,’ said the Council’s spokesperson. 

In March 2022 councillors met at Northern View to review three tenders. Members of the public were excluded from the meeting which was neither minuted in detail nor audio recorded. 

Several Councillors present at the tenders review recall being shown a second inspection report, this one from Northumberland County Council, and being told that all the existing equipment was dangerous and had to be replaced. 

The Councillors recall that they were told that a council officer knew the Kompan Scotland representative as a neighbour, ‘the sort of connection which is bound to happen in small towns’. 

Once awarded the contract, Kompan Scotland proceeded to dismantle and dispose of existing equipment and install the new apparatus. 

Installation was completed by September 2022. At this point Councillors were informed that there would be no borrowing because interest rates were too high. The works were instead paid in cash. 

None of the councillors consulted by The Bridge wishes to be named. In an attempt to clarify Berwick Town Council’s spending decisions, ahead of proposed new expenditure on play/leisure equipment, questions have been put to Berwick Town Council’s appointed spokesperson, the Town Clerk. However, as we go to press, there have been no comprehensive answers. 

Backgrounder content to follow soon.

Spittal Play Park Easter 2024