Sheffield City Council defends awarding entertainment contract to company linked to cabinet member

Publicly funded contracts for entertainment at a series of council-run events were awarded exclusively to a company linked to a Sheffield City Council cabinet member.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 5:19 pm

In 2019, Labour councillor Paul Wood, then cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety - who was appointed executive member for housing, roads and waste management following the election in May this year - was tasked with organising three public events to celebrate 100 years of council housing in Sheffield.

The ‘Party in the Park’ events, which took place in Oxley Park, Herdings Park and Parson Cross Park on September 1, 8 and 15 of 2019 respectively, were free to the public and all featured tribute acts as musical entertainment. Although Councillor Wood was in charge of organising the concerts, he was not involved in selecting or appointing the tribute acts.

According to information gained by The Star via a Freedom of Information request, contracts to provide entertainment at the events were not put out to tender, meaning no other company was given the opportunity to formally compete for them.

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One of the advertisements for the Party in the Park events.

A spokesperson for Sheffield City Council said there had been no legal requirement to get formal quotes from other companies in this case.

Instead, an informal ‘benchmarking’ process was undertaken, meaning council officers compared the quotes provided by Peller to prices on offer from other agencies.

A spokesperson for SCC said: “There were no formal quotes sought, although benchmarking was carried out which confirmed value for money.

“The Procurement Regulations allow for direct award for the creation or acquisition of a unique work of art or artistic performance the negotiated procedure without prior publication may be used.”

Councillor Paul Wood.

The spokesperson added that procurement of services below £2,500 – as each of these acts were – does not legally require a wider tendering process. They said that council officers independently carried out ‘benchmarking’ above and beyond the legal requirements to do so, and that to suggest no other option was considered would be ‘untrue’.

The events - including all entertainment bookings - were paid for with a combination of funds from the Housing Revenue Account - which comes from rent paid by tenants of council properties - and the General Council Fund.

The tribute acts advertised across the three events were: Madness tribute act ‘Badness’; Michael Buble tribute act ‘Buble The Show’ by performer Adam Austin; Jersey Boys tribute act ‘West End Jerseys’; and Robbie Williams tribute act ‘Robbie The Show’.

At the time of their booking for the Party in the Park events all of the acts which performed were signed to the Beighton-based Peller Agency.

Woodhouse Councillor Wood works as General Manager for Peller Agency Ltd according to the Peller Agency website, and in the same role for Peller Artistes Ltd, according to his published register of interests on the SCC website. Paul Woods’ Linkedin account states that he has been a ‘controller’ of Peller Artistes Ltd since 1982. Companies House documents show that Peller Agency traded as Peller Artistes between the years of 1996 and 2017.

An invoice seen by The Star shows that SCC paid the Peller Agency a total of £3,700 plus VAT for the services of Badness, Adam Austin and the West End Jerseys on the days of the three Party in the Park events.

Coun Wood said he ‘did exactly what was the best for saving the council money’.

For every booking it makes for a Peller Agency act, the Peller Agency may take a cut according to contracts agreed to with the artist. Coun Wood said that for each show Peller took a basic administration charge of £111, with the rest of the money going to the performers.

There is no suggestion that Coun Wood personally made any money from these arrangements. Neither he, the acts nor Peller Agency broke any rules in entering into the contracts or procuring and accepting the payments.

Coun Wood said: “I was asked to get a quote for entertainment for the events which was a quote for two acts for the main stage area for each show. The quote put in was a massive reduction on these acts normal fees and all the profit element of the agency was further removed in order to save the council more money.

“After the quote I was entirely removed from the process and officers dealt with putting in through the price checking and procurement process. I was informed after a while that quote I had given was massively less than comparators and they would like to proceed.

“I was told [...] that all the correct procedures had been followed to the letter.

"I believe I did exactly what was the best for saving the council money in putting these shows on and was proud of what we achieved."

Janet Sharpe, Director of Housing Services at Sheffield City Council, defended Coun Wood’s involvement regarding the booking of entertainment for 100 Years of Council Housing events.

She said: “This was the final leg of what was a successful celebration of 100 years of council housing back in 2019. For Party in the Parks we held events at a number of parks for council tenants and our communities.

"Contracts were awarded for three artists through the Peller Agency, who Coun Paul Wood has publicly declared he works for. The award of contracts was in line with procurement regulations and, to be completely clear, benchmarking was carried out by the council, independently of Cllr Wood, to ensure other options and costs were considered.”