Tenders face more oversight

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PARC life: Frankston Council established Peninsula Leisure to manage aquatic centres in the municipality. Picture: Gary Sissons

CONCERNS over potential conflicts of interests will see greater oversight of a company set up by Frankston Council to manage aquatic and sports centres.

Councillors at the 23 July public council meeting unanimously voted to bring in three independent experts including a “qualified probity auditor” to run the rule over any tender bids by Peninsula Leisure Pty Ltd beyond its existing commitments.

Peninsula Leisure is the operator of the Peninsula Aquatic Recreation Centre (PARC) and the Pines Forest Aquatic Centre in Frankston North.

The Times revealed in May last year that Peninsula Leisure had talks with neighbouring Mornington Peninsula Shire Council over potentially taking over management of several shire sports and leisure centres.

Belgravia Leisure, a privately owned company, subsequently won the tender to manage five shire sports centres late last year.

It is understood some councillors became concerned at Peninsula Leisure’s attempts to expand its operations outside the Frankston municipality and a majority of councillors voted later in May to have Peninsula Leisure refer any such future plans to councillors for approval.

A recent Frankston Skate Park management tender is believed to have prompted councillors to take the latest action to install independent oversight of any tenders that Peninsula Leisure expresses an interest in winning.

The skate park is located near the PARC and is managed by YMCA. Councillors decided behind closed doors after the latest public council meeting to give YMCA another contract to continue managing the skate park.

Council CEO Dennis Hovenden declined to confirm Peninsula Leisure was also a skate park management tender bidder “for commercial-in-confidence reasons”. The Times understands a bid was made by the wholly-owned council company.

Frankston mayor Cr Colin Hampton said council needs to be seen to be impartial when deciding to award tender contracts.

“Peninsula Leisure Proprietary Limited is a company owned by ratepayers or the City of Frankston and when we come to adjudge tenders for a company in which we are the main stakeholders in, we should be seen as super clean,” Cr Hampton said at the council meeting.

He said bringing in independent oversight on future tender bids will avoid any perception of any conflict of interest.

“That way we will be seen to be at arm’s length from any decisions that are made.”

Cr Glenn Aitken said the additional oversight is “certainly a step in the right direction”.

“I certainly wonder, and have wondered a number of times, as to the extent of interest that Peninsula Leisure may have in this city,” Cr Aitken said.

“A council does well to attempt to ensure that it is at somewhat of a distance and yet Peninsula Leisure is essentially tied by the apron strings to council because it’s council’s own creation.

“That, of course, raises questions. Questions probably of a deeper or broader nature that we have to find in ourselves to answer.”

Cr Aitken said council has previously built and maintained ratepayer-funded assets for the community to be held on behalf of future ratepayers.

Cr Hampton noted council’s decision to bring in independent oversight of tender bids involving Peninsula Leisure goes beyond the requirements of the Local Government Act.

“This is a step up to ensuring probity is of the utmost importance.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 30 July 2018

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