Council ‘Stumped’ for tree cash?

At a meeting of Epsom and Ewell Borough Council’s Strategy and Resources Committee on Thursday 5th May 2022 Councillors voted for a controversial new £186,000 per annum tree maintenance contract with regular supplier Advanced Tree Services Ltd (ATS).

ATS is a family-owned and run Woking-based business employing in the region of 50 workers. The sole director is Daron Mitchell who has run the company since 1997. Profit and Loss accounts have not been filed with Companies House.

The Council is responsible for trees on its land and an Officer’s report to Councillors stated that there are approximately 32,000 trees within the Borough. The Report is not clear if that is the number of trees on Council land or the Borough as a whole.

The Council is liable to persons injured by trees on its land if trees have not been inspected and maintained. The Council put a three-year contract for the Borough’s tree maintenance out to tender and received four bids.

ATS will undertake the full range of tree inspections and maintenance works. The works are to be performed on trees located within the borough on the Council’s land and co-managed sites – Nonsuch Park and the Downs. The contracted works include a tree inspections programme, tree planting and aftercare, tree maintenance, emergency callouts and Oak Processionary Moth control.

The annual cost of the previous tree contract was £81,000 plus a budget of £5,000 to address Oak Processionary Moth. The cost of the new contract is £185,000 per annum, an increase of £104,000.

Of this £104,000 increase, £59,500 can be linked to industry inflation as the contract has not been re-tendered for a number of years. The remaining £44,500 increase is due to new service requirements

The £185,000 cost of the new contract exceeds the Council’s existing budget by £99,000. Officers proposed that the £59,500 increase due to industry inflation can be funded by the Council’s “budgeted contingency for contract inflation”. However, the unbudgeted £39,500 increase attributable to service enhancements will need to be found within the tree maintenance service’s existing “budget envelope”, or from “alternative service areas”.

Not all Councillors were convinced that this shortfall of £39,500 could be found and questioned the wisdom of proceeding with the contract. Officers appeared “stumped” as to where the money will come from.

The motion was passed with 8 votes for and 1 against.

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