The honeymoon period between the French-owned multinational waste company known now as Veolia Environnmental Services (Veolia ES) and Nottinghamshire County Council (Notts CC) appears to have come to an abrupt end. Just three years after Veolia ES signed a Waste PFI deal, valued at £850 million, with Notts CC, the local authority finds itself a defendant in a court action initiated by their waste partner.

Notts CC was injuncted upon by Veolia, preventing the County Council from carrying out its legal duties under the Audit Commission Act of 1998. The Act requires all local authorities to open their books for inspection as part of the annual auditing procedures.

Section 15(1) of the Act clearly states:

Inspection of documents and questions at audit
(1) At each audit under this Act, other than an audit of accounts of a health service body, any persons interested may—

  • (a) inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them, and
  • (b) make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents.

The injunction was quickly followed by a move to secure a Judicial Review of Notts CC’s decision to do what every local authority is required by law to do – open its accounts for inspection so that taxpayers can assess whether or not decisions made by the Council represent value for money.

The confidential Court documents desfribe Nottinghamshire county Council as the defendants, and name the Audit Commission as an interested party. It is understood that Veolia’s legal actions could jeopardise the District Auditor’s ability to sign off on Nottinghamshire county Council’s accounts and procedures. The potential implications of this have yet to be clarified.

Journalists in both the City of Nottingham City and the County of Nottinghamshire are covering the story, although it is believed to be of national significance. The Mansfield Chad’s latest article on this subject is entitled Incinerator campaign row could go to court although the matter went to the High Court last Friday (17th July 2009). The Nottingham Evening Post reported on Monday, in an article entitled Veolia injunction battle ‘to last until September’, that the matter could drag on as it makes its way through the legal system.

Friends of the Earth’s Legal team have stepped in to ensure that the other interested party named in the court action, the local citizen who asked to see how public money was being spent on delivering public (waste) services in Nottinghamshire, is properly represented.

Will the commercial interests of one multi-national waste company be allowed to derail the rights of taxpayers to see how public money is being spent? Watch this space…

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