Housing contractor Mears faces more questions about its practices as fresh claims of overcharging have surfaced in a Brighton and Hove City Council audit report.
The questions come after Mears repaid the council about £513,000, including costs, after systematic overcharging by a plastering sub-contractor over at least a 17-month period.
The latest discrepancies relate to electrical work carried out by Mears itself and are estimated to be in the order of six figures again. The final sum is in dispute.
The council said: “The potential discrepancies were identified during a review last year and passed on to our Internal Audit Team to investigate.
“We are working with Mears to look at the discrepancies we’ve identified, including re-inspecting the properties in question.
“We’ve introduced additional checks and a joint quality assurance management process with Mears which has improved the monitoring process.
“The examination of the issues has proved complex and has taken longer than originally envisaged.
“Work is still in progress and includes inspection visits as well as the validation of data and other information.
“We have a number of regular partnership meetings with Mears where we review contractual matters.
“The contract is subject to significant oversight and, as with any large contract, there are mechanisms that may allow for escalation of disputes.
“We will report back to the Audit and Standards Committee in January 2018 once the review is completed.”
The report will cover “the outcomes from this work and the actions taken to resolve any issues arising”.
The previous overcharging surfaced publicly nearly two years ago and led to calls for more rigorous oversight of the contract with Mears.
The 10-year deal was described as a £20 million-a-year contract when it started in 2010 although the projected spend this year is forecast to be more than £29 million.
In the first seven years of the contract the council has paid Mears more than £170 million or almost £25 million a year.
This year’s forecast will take the tally to more than £200 million in eight years – or more than £25 million a year.
The contract – for responsive repairs, planned maintenance and major works for council homes – is due to end in 2020.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.