HCC legal contract questioned

A lucrative legal services contract has been rolled over by Hamilton City Council without a competitive tender, drawing criticism from politicians and raising eyebrows in legal circles.

In a closed decision, city law firm Tompkins Wake had their contract extended until June 2016, after council management argued that the firm were up to speed with complex regulatory work.

Tompkins Wake have handled the council's legal work since November 2010, after it took over the city's oldest law firm, Swarbrick Dixon, council's lawyers for the previous 80 years.

In 2010/11, the year the firms merged, the council paid them $1.3 million for legal services.

The work has allowed the firm to expand its team of specialist lawyers and retain high level staff.

Harkness Henry managing partner Simon Menzies said his firm would likely have tendered for the contract, and questioned the justification put up by management for rolling the contract over.

''There are certainly firms in Hamilton, apart from Tompkins Wake, that can do the job, well,'' Mr Menzies said.

''One reason that has been explained is the continuity of legal service while they've got complex change projects underway. Well that's rather the nature of the business, the district plans are always under review, and I'm not sure there's anything terribly different about right now.'' 

''The decision they have made has locked up the arrangement for something like six years now without any competitive tender, which does seem a long time,'' said Mr Menzies.

Council chief executive Barry Harris said that Tompkins Wake provided continuity of legal advice and minimised the risk during major projects such as the District Plan review.

Mr Harris said Tompkins Wake's rates were benchmarked and within the ''mid range of prices''.

''The Council expressed satisfaction with the current  levels of service provided by Tompkins Wake and there is value in the significant knowledge they have already developed regarding this Council's business.'' 

Councillors Martin Gallagher and Ewan Wilson were among three to vote against the decision.

''If there's any organisation which should go out to tender, it's council. For that not to have occurred, is anything but transparency,'' said Mr Wilson.

Mr Gallagher said the work should have gone to open tender and he had voted accordingly.