SOUTH Lakeland District Council has been criticised for awarding lucrative council contracts to firms outside of the area.

The row was sparked after SLDC awarded a £14,000 job to film the area to a video production company from Cheshire.

Local bidders are angry because the contract was on behalf of the council’s economic arm called Invest In South Lakeland and claimed their price was lower.

One tender, who asked not to be named, said: “It is beyond laughable.”

The Gazette has been passed documents showing SLDC awarded:

n £100,000 to a Manchester-based demolition firm to flatten the £3.5million Berners Pool in Grange n £54,000 to Lincolnshire and Staffordshire firms for SLDC's in-house newspaper South Lakeland News

n £25,000 to a Mersey-based consultant for drawing up the Heritage Lottery bid for Grange Lido

n £306,000 contract to Birkenhead bailiffs to claw back unpaid council tax and business rates

n £90,000 to a Leicestershire business to get rid of local roadside weeds

Tory opposition councillors and Labour MP John Woodcock called on the Lib-Dem run council to rethink its policies.

However, council chief Lawrence Conway hit back saying strict UK procurement legislation does not allow favouritism to local firms.

And he produced figures showing that of the £23million of work given out by the council in 2011-12, it contracted 29 per cent to firms in South Lakeland and eight per cent went to firms in Cumbria.

Eden District Council awarded 42 per cent of its contracts to Eden-based firms.

Mr Conway also stressed that companies from outside of the area winning SLDC contracts often employed local workforces.

“They don’t ship people in from Leicestershire to do jobs around here,” said Mr Conway.

“This has to be a process that is open, equitable and transparent. That doesn’t mean you can award them purely on the basis of them being local.”

He explained how SLDC has set itself tough new targets to increase the amount of work given to companies from 29 to 35 per cent.

Council staff now also provide training and information to help local companies meet the criteria for winning SLDC work.

“The public has to understand that sometimes we do not have the expertise sitting here in South Lakeland for us to use,” Mr Conway explained.

“We are a medium-sized, sparsely populated district with two thirds of it in the Lake District National Park. “For example, there are no bailiff firms in South Lakeland so we have had to go to Birkenhead. We champion the South Lakeland economy – we would never do anything that has a negative impact on it.”

But Coun David Williams, leader of the opposition Tories, said: “Had there been no firms interested in doing the video locally, then that’s another matter but to have four firms is a bit stupid. We would like to see the council doing more to help particularly the smaller firms sevice the contract procedure.”

Coun Ben Berry, said: “The irony of Invest in South Lakeland investing outside of South Lakeland is not lost on me. Whilst I firmly believe protectionism leads to ruin, the council must work far harder with local suppliers.”

Furness MP John Woodcock said: “The Gazette’s list of council contracts that could easily be fulfilled by our excellent local businesses but which have gone elsewhere makes for depressing reading. It’s open to question whether South Lakeland is doing all it can.”