Councillors close to the Bath Spa project are questioning the intervention of former construction minister Nigel Griffiths in the scheme earlier this year.
Councillors at Bath and North-East Somerset Council (Banes) are trying to find out whether Griffiths, who is now deputy leader of the House of Commons, was briefed by civil servants before the Commons debate on 9 March, during which he dubbed Banes “the most incompetent council in the country”.
Malcolm Hanney, the council’s executive member for resources, has already used the Freedom of Information Act to try to obtain the briefing from the DTI. This request was blocked by Whitehall.
Now Hanney has written to Catherine Bell, the DTI’s acting permanent secretary, to find out why the request was blocked.
He said: “I’m pursuing this. If I don’t hear from Catherine Bell in the allotted time I will be writing to the information commissioner to ask to gain access to the briefing.”
A council insider has said that if it was shown Griffiths had not been briefed by civil servants, he should be referred to the parliamentary standards committee.
In the Commons debate, Griffiths appeared ill briefed, repeatedly calling the local authority “Bath and North-West Somerset”. He urged the council to accept Mowlem’s offer to complete the job for £26m.
The council has been furious at Griffths since he dubbed it “the client from hell”, after a visit in February this year. Some sources at Banes have claimed Griffiths’ subsequent comments in the Commons and the press were overtly anti-council.
John Betty, the council’s head of major projects, this week said Mowlem’s offer to complete the project for £26m had not been good value. He said: “Suffice to say we were unconvinced it had time to do the work. We were also concerned that the £26m was not the end of the story.”
Banes is now working with project manager Capita Symonds.
Betty told the council that most of the building work should be completed by Christmas, but that all the floors at the spa must be redone.
Betty said: “Pool-surround floors will have to come up, the screed taken out through the building and the underfloor heating and pipe work removed, as well as the original problems associated with the steam room floor. We will literally have to start again in some areas.”
The council has appointed Taylor Wessing to fight its corner in the expected legal action against Mowlem, as it emerged it had spent £1m in legal fees over the project. The total cost of Bath Spa could exceed £43m, £30m more than its original estimate.