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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

It's simple: my taxes should not go to a war profiteer like Veolia

Presentation by Dan Judelson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and a Labour Party member to Brent Executive 14 October 2013.

Collecting waste is one of the most basic, fundamental responsibilities of a council. Ask someone what they want in terms of local services and chances are high that they will begin any such list with “empty my bins.”
Over the last three and a half decades, there has been an enormous change in the delivery of these services and a particular upshot of that is that a waste collection contract may now be part of a lucrative business.
So it is entirely understandable that Brent residents should ask questions about where council money is being spent. One of the bidders – the remaining bidder – for this public realm contract is part of a company that derives income directly form illegal activity.

I do not want to rehash in detail all of the arguments about how this happens; I know councillors and executive members will already be aware of much of this thanks to the debate over the past few months. Yet it is worth reminding ourselves of the basics of what happens at the Tovlan landfill site, operated by Veolia, in the Jordan Valley.

It handles waste from illegal Israeli settlements on land that would form part of the putative Palestinian state. Not a pennyworth of licence fee is paid by Veolia to the Palestinian authority for this privilege. In the meantime, Israeli institutions from the government to the Army to local settlers are actively trying to take over and control the Jordan Valley.

The government of Israel financially promotes illegal settlement in the Jordan Valley. According to the Israeli NGO B’tselem ,”the average grant per capita to Israeli settlers in the West bank [has been] approximately 57% higher than the average expenditure per capita for Israeli citizens inside Israel.”

Furthermore, the head of the Jordan Valleys settlers group has stated explicitly that “Approving the programme [of expansion] will change the face of the Jordan Valley beyond recognition – beyond recognition – and attract returning sons and families from outside to come to the region. Although a political cloud – an interesting euphemism – hangs over the region, this is the way to attract residents. (Italics mark my emphasis.)

So it is crucial to recognise that we are not talking about some abstract or vague connection with illegal activity. Operation of the Tovlan site contributes directly to sustaining illegal settlements and their expansion in the Jordan Valley, something that has been acknowledged as illegal by governments around the world – including that of Israel – since at least 1968.

These are issues that have been raised during the campaign but I raise them now because they leave a number of questions unanswered.
  1. We have heard that Brent Council Procurement and Legal Services have been determined to exclude such political factors from the bidding process on the basis of a legal opinion but we have heard also that this advice has been embargoed. Brent Council has to explain, why the exclusion, why the embargo?
  1. We have heard, too, about the potential for legal action from Veolia should they be excluded from the bidding process. Yet they have been excluded or have not been awarded contracts in the West Midlands, in Ealing, Richmond and East Sussex. They have been denied business in Dublin. Utrecht and The Hague – not to mention, far closer to home, the North and the West London Waste Authorities. I would like to know if Brent Council consulted with any of these bodies to try ad establish the ground on which these contracts were not awarded or the bidder excluded from the tendering process.
  1. Current EU guidelines state that the EU will not enter into any contract or relationship with a company or organisation that operates in the illegally occupied West Bank. This is sure to affect EU law across the 27 states over the duration of the public realm contract being discussed here tonight. Has this factor been considered by the council executive?
  1. Given what we know about Veolia’s operations in the West Bank, what consideration has been given to attaching conditions or riders to this very long contract, offering Veolia an opportunity to divest itself of the illegal operations we have heard about tonight.
Councillors, there are members of the Green Party, the Labour Party, of Stop the War, of Brent PSC and I myself am a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. But we are here tonight to decide the best course of action for Brent residents no matter what their political allegiance of campaign affiliation.

Hello. My name is Dan Judelson. I have lived in Algernon Road, Kilburn for the past 15 years and as a Brent resident and council-tax payer, I object most strenuously to my taxes going to fill the coffers of a war profiteer like Veolia. It’s as simple as that.

Brent awards £142.3m contract to Veolia amid protests

Labour Brent Council's Executive last night approved the awarding of the £142.3m Public Realm contract to Veolia despite representations calling for the company to be removed from the procurement process because if its alleged grave misconduct in servicing illegal Israel settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

 The Executive was addressed by Dan Judelson of Brent Jews for Justice for Palestinians,  Cllr Paul Lorber, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, and Martin Francis, Chair of Brent and Harrow PSC..

Executive members argued, to varying degrees, that they cared about human rights and the plight of the Palestinians, but that they had no option, for legal reasons and to get the best deal for Brent council tax payers, to award the contract to Veolia. Cllr Jim Moher, rolled out on these occasions as the Executive's blunderbus, accused Martin Francis and Paul Lorber of attempting to wreck the contract with an eye on gaining electoral advantage next year. He said that people like you, trying to occupy the high moral ground, may be concerned about human rights but the man in the street cared about his bins being emptied.

Muhammed Butt summing up said there was no greater advocate than him of the Palestinian cause but that the Council had to act legally and could not risk Veolia taking legal action against them for not following procedures. He added that faced with huge cuts in central government funding the savings the new contract involved was the most important issue.

Fiona Ledden, answering a challenge about lack of transparency in not informing  the campaign and the public of the legal advice she had received regarding  Bin Veolia in Brent's allegation said that she was constrained because it would be irresponsible to share legal advice with the public as it was privileged. It had been shared with members of the Executive behind closed doors. If the advice had been made public it could have been used by other parties in a Judicial Review. She said that she had received clear legal advice that Veolia UK was a separate company from that operating in Israel/Palestine and that in her communications with other local authorities she could find no case of Veolia being excluded from a contract.

This is the speech Martin Francis made to the Executive:
When Muhammed Butt took over from Ann John as council leader he recognised, in the light of the library closures issue, the need to communicate with residents better and engage with them –
                                         be a ‘listening council’

Following his disagreement with Gareth Daniel  (former Chief Executive) he recognised the need to rebalance the power relationship between officers and elected members

                                   he wanted to move from ‘managerialism’ to              

                                        political leadership.

The public realm contract issue leads us to ask:

                                what happened to these intentions?

Veolia’s activities in the occupied territories of Israel are a moral and human rights issue, as well as a ‘political one’ just as British companies’ collusion with the Apartheid regime in South Africa was for the Brent Labour administration in the 1980s.

But from the beginning we were handed over to officers to discuss the issue – not elected members.

These officers were about as transparent as a lump of lead.

We gave officers detailed legal evidence on Veolia’s grave misconduct in the occupied territories – the procurement panel decided there were no grounds for exclusion of Veolia but gave no reasons why or how they had reached that decision.

We and our human rights lawyer met Fiona Ledden (Head of Procurement) to ask what legal advice they had received so that we could respond – they refused to tell us what the advice was and its source. We were put in the Kafkaesque situation of attempting to respond to evidence we couldn’t see. Our lawyer warned Fiona Ledden that this refusal could be used to press for a judicial review.

We asked if our allegations had been put to Veolia, they said no.

Surely any fair process would do that and should have in terms of protecting the council’s reputation.

When Veolia did write to the council, apparently of their own volition, they claimed to have sold the Tovlan landfill site. We submitted evidence that this was untrue.  No reaction from officers to being deliberately misled by a bidder.

When Enterprise asked for extra time to put in their final bid they were refused. The council’s reason for refusal of extra time are almost the same, and as unenlightening, as the refusal to exercise their discretion to exclude Veolia –

‘because that’s what we have decided.’

So no comeback for Veolia for giving misleading information to the council but instead officers’ action leaving Veolia as the only bidder.

If the officers refused to engage with us, what about the elected members of the executive?

Our petition with more than 2,000 signatures was presented to the executive. There was no response from the Executive member leading on the environment. It was referred to Fiona Ledden, head of procurement for consideration.  The same Fiona Ledden who had been stonewalling us.

A request to Cllr butt and Fiona Ledden for the outcome of that consideration was requested some time ago but only answered on Thursday. This merely said the council did not intent to revisit the decision not to exclude Veolia made on January 31st

                                          in other words ‘we are ignoring your petition’

Our supporters made presentations on the issue to various Brent Connects forums. The notes say their comments would be referred to Cllr Roxanne Mashari as lead member for environment.  They have heard no more.

Liz Lindsay, Secretary of Brent and Harrow PSC has received no response to a request sent to Cllr Mashari in June, to meet with her and Brent members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians regarding the contract.

The officers’ report you are considering this evening makes absolutely no reference to any of these representations. If we had not made them public and written to councillors you will have had no idea that this is a controversial issue.

           Transparency? Accountability? Participation?

The GCs of both Hampstead and Kilburn and Brent Central Labour parties, Brent TUC and Brent members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians have supported our case.  We have been supported by several of the candidates for the Brent Central parliamentary nomination. Brent Lib Dems were ruled out of order when they tried to put a question about Veolia at full council.

I know that some members of the Executive have misgivings on the issue. Cllr Mashari herself, reporting on a visit to Israel/Palestine with the Young Fabians, paid for by BICOM (set up to ‘create a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain) said that the one issue she was repeatedly told should be addressed to bring peace was that of illegal Israeli settlements.

Apart from all of the above can the council truly save that they are sure of ‘best value’ for Brent residents in a process that led, at the final hurdle, to Veolia having no competitor for the Executive to consider.

 In Q1 of 2013-14 there was a failure to reach targets for reduction in residual waste and increased recycling at a cost of £226,000 with Veolia the current contractor.

We suggest the Executive:

1.     Extend the current contract for a year

2.     Start a new procurement process with robust ethical conditions attached

3.     Consider separating the parks/ground maintenance services from that contract to allow waste specialist companies to bid.

4.     Consider supporting an in-house bid for the parks/grounds maintenance contract

Saturday, 12 October 2013

We need your support on Monday October 14th


Brent Council Executive will be deciding whether to award the Public Realm contract to Veolia at their meeting this Monday October 14th 7pm Brent Civic Centre.
Veolia is the only company left in the bidding process and officers are recommending that they be given the contract. This follows the officers’ decision not to allow Enterprise, the other bidder, additional time to formulate their bid.

We will be arguing in a speech to the Executive that they should reject the officers’ recommendation and instead extend the current contract for one year and then open up a new procurement process.

The new procurement process should include strong ethical conditions and the Council should consider separating the parks maintenance from the waste element. This would encourage companies that specialise in waste and recycling only to make bids and allow for an in-house bid for parks maintenance.



Sunday, 6 October 2013

Why Veolia should NOT be awarded the Brent Public Realm contract

Letter to Brent councillors  from Martin Francis, Chair of Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

On October 14th the Brent Executive will be deciding whether to accept an officers’ recommendation to award the Public Realm Contract (waste collection, recycling, street sweeping, fly tipping, parks maintenance, grounds maintenance for BHP, burials, gritting) to Veolia. http://democracy.brent.gov.uk/documents/s19639/en-public-realm.pdf

I am writing to you to set out the reasons why I think you should use your influence to persuade the Brent Executive NOT to award the contract to Veolia.


Veolia was the only one of the final three bidders left after one company withdrew because of internal reorganisation and resource issues (SERCO) and another (ENTERPRISE) after officers refused them extra time to prepare their bid.

It is clearly legitimate to ask if ‘Best Value’ has been obtained when such a large contract is awarded with no competitive bid to evaluate it against. It is also legitimate to ask why Enterprise was not granted more time. (Enterprise has now been taken over by Amey)

Although Veolia promise improved performance they have failed to meet recent recycling and residual waste targets costing the Council £226,000. http://www.wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/brent-recycling-and-library-visit-rates.html


Brent and Harrow Palestine Campaign and Bin Veolia in Brent have called for Brent Council to exclude Veolia from the contract because of its activities in the Occupied Territory of Palestine which provide infrastructure supporting the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

The campaign write to the panel giving detailed information on the background to Veolia’s activities and legal opinion on the case for exclusion. We asked to meet with the panel to present our concerns and answer any questions but were refused. The West London Waste Authority had granted such a meeting during their procurement process. That meeting took place in a cooperative and amicable atmosphere.

The Brent panel decided that there were no grounds for excluding Veolia but would not give their reasons. Muhammed Butt arranged for a group of campaigners and our legal representative to meet with Fiona Ledden (Head of Legal and Procurement) about the issues we had raised. She listened but would not elaborate on the reasons for the panel’s decision. Our legal representative, Daniel Machover, responded that this left us trying to address issues that the Council would not reveal. We were left with trying to guess what their legal advice had been. He pointed out that this might leave the Council vulnerable to a Judicial Review.

Fiona Ledden said that she was determined that the procurement decision would be made on legal grounds and not political grounds.

Further correspondence and Freedom of Information requests failed to elicit any information on the content of the Council’s legal advice, although ours had always been made public.

We did establish that Veolia had never been questioned by the panel, or asked to provide additional information, on the evidence that we had presented about their grave misconduct.


Despite not questioning Veolia, eventually the Council received an unsolicited letter, apparently out of the blue, from Veolia attempting to refute claims made against them.

We were able to provide evidence that Veolia’s letter was misleading and inaccurate but again this made no impact on the panel. Our requests for details of the further legal opinion received by the Council was again refused.

Our campaign has been supported in motions passed by the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party General Committee, the Brent Central Labour Party General Committee, Brent Trade Union Council and by Brent members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

We presented a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to the August 19th Executive. Rather than this being addressed by the lead member for the environment Cllr Mashari Roxanne, it was referred to Fiona Ledden, head of procurement, the officer who had been refusing us information.

We have received no response from either Muhammed Butt or Fiona Ledden to our request for the result of that referral. It appears that the petition has been put on the back burner.

I do not think that any Brent councillor can claim that the above process and officer’s response was open and transparent. Indeed it appears that residents’ legitimate concerns have been ignored and dismissed.

On all of the above grounds we ask that you urge the members of the Brent Executive to vote against the officers’ recommendation.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Francis
Chair, Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Human Rights abuser Veolia must not get Brent Council taxpapers' money

Usually well informed Brent Council sources say the the Brent Council Executive on October 14th will be recommended by officers to award the new multi-million Public Realm contract to the controversial French multi-national Veolia.

The contract covers waste collection, recycling, street sweeping, parks maintenance, cemeteries maintenance and grounds maintenance for Brent Housing Partnership estates.

The Bin Veolia in Brent Campaign has called on the Council to exclude Veolia from the lucrative contract on the grounds of its grave misconduct. The allegations relate to Veolia's operations in the occupied territories of Palestine where it helps maintain the infrastructure for illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

Bin Veolia in Brent argue that Brent council tax payers' money should not be used to enrich a company involved in the undermining of Palestinian human rights. Brent Council, representing a diverse population and committed to social justice, should ensure that it only awards contracts to ethical companies - just as pension fund investments are subject to an ethical test..

The Bin Veolia campaign's argument was backed by the General Committees of both the Brent Central and Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Parties, many individual Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party members as well as Brent Trade Union Council and Brent members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

More than 2,000 people signed a petition calling for the exclusion of Veolia from the contract. There were speakers supporting exclusion at many of the last round of Brent Connects forums. Their comments were referred to Cllr Roxanne Mashari but the petition was referred to Fiona Ledden, head of legal and procurement and no response has been forthcoming.

Throughout the process Bin Veolia in Brent and Brent Palestine Solidarity Campaign have published their legal advice on the issue. For their part Brent Council officers have been obstructive and despite Freedom of Information requests have refused to publish the  legal advice  they have obtained.  This made it impossible for the campaigns to answer legal points taken on board by the council. It is likely that the council's failure to be transparent and answer genuine questions from residents could be grounds for a judicial review.

An attempt by Liberal Democrat councillors to raise the issue at a full council meeting was ruled out of order on the advice of officers.

A spokesperson for the Bin Veolia in Brent campaign said:
If the sources are correct then Brent councillors on the Executive need to seriously consider rejecting the officers' recommendation. The Council only recently awarded the Freedom of Brent to Nelson Mandela, a man who said he could never be free until the Palestinians are free. Back in the 80s the Labour Brent Council was in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and despite officer advice at the time did take a stand against awarding IT contracts to firms operating in South Africa.
Brent Labour Council should stand up for the freedom of Palestinians, not give our money to a company that helps oppress them.
The agenda for the Brent Executive will not be available on the council website until the weekend.

Brent PSC is urging human rights supporters to contact their local councillors regarding the contract. Councillors should be asked to write to Brent Executive members calling for them to reject the officers' recommendation  and NOT award the contract to Veolia.

The email addresses and telephone numbers of councillors can be found HERE