The future of the Byron Bay Surf School is down to the wire after Byron Shire councillors failed to address whether additional licences could be granted for operators at last Thursday’s meeting.
And now MP Don Page is urging the council to review its decision, which no doubt adds pressure on staff and councillors to come clean with its tender process.
Echonetdaily reported on 31 July that the Byron Bay Surf School’s tender application was pipped by a competitor who paid three times what other operators offered.
The decision outraged owner/operator Jayme Edwards, who says price was the determining factor and his ten years of local knowledge and flawless safety record were ignored. He now claims his legal advice suggests the request-for-tender process may not even be legal.
Currently there are only four commercial licences and two personalised surf instructor spots available for operators to teach surfing in Byron Shire.
The tender panel that decided Mr Edwards’s fate is not publicly known; however, Echonetdaily understands it to be made up of councillors, staff and members from the Headland Trust and the Marine Park Authority.
Neither are the official scorecard results publicly known for all submitted applications; however, Echonetdaily has lodged a GIPA (Government Information Public Access) application, which is yet to be responded to by Council.
When contacted to confirm his meeting with Mr Edwards, Mr Page told Echonetdaily, ‘I did meet with Jayme last Friday and I think he presented a very credible case, especially given the criteria upon which the decision was supposed to be based. I would urge Council to revisit their decision as it appears the licence fee (money to Council) played a disproportionate part in the decision about who got the licence.
‘Other important criteria appear to have been downgraded or dismissed.’
Mr Page added he will raise the issue with Byron Council when he receives Mr Edwards’s summarised argument.
And despite an external review of the tender process being called by acting general manager Ray Darney, it remains unclear if there will be a tender suspension while external investigations are carried out.
The winning bid was won by Mojosurf, and they will start operating in September unless Council acts before then.
Despite the council’s failure to table the tender issue, fellow Byron Bay surf school operators and elite surfing coach Steve Foreman showed support by addressing Council’s public access last Thursday.
Surf schools speak
Mr Foreman spoke with bewilderment as to how his bid was also rejected despite operating since 2004 and a flawless 32 years’ track record.
He said he helped with the careers of professionals such as Layne Beachley, while also coaching Indigenous kids.
‘We originally designed this policy with Rusty Miller,’ he said.
Gary Morgan from Style Surfing suggested to the gallery that the tender applications were not read correctly by councillors, while Dean Johnston, owner of Black Dog Surfing, asked councillors, ‘Why did it only take four minutes to decide this? Where was the cross-reference?’
Mojosurf’s Nathan Folkes told Echonetdaily, ‘We really need to be careful and address the real issues here and not go on a turkey hunt and start pointing the finger at council, councillors, operators, safety and money.
‘We may just need to be committed to finding a better way with all the energy that is now being thrown around at the subject. Mojosurf are committed to working with all parties to create a best-practice platform for activity operators, communities, the tourism industry and tourists.’
Mr Folkes also proposes a meeting between all parties, ‘where we look at the health of the tourism industry, the challenges to activity operators in NSW – not just in surfing – the current decision and what can be done about it and looking toward a best-practice industry platform for the future.’
Show of unity
Byron Bay Surf School owner Jayme Edwards told Echonetdaily, ‘Watching the existing Byron Bay surf school operators stand together at Council on Thursday and speak their minds about this dubious request-for-tender process was a great show of unity, and demonstrated our deep concerns about a system that can simply wipe out our businesses and livelihoods and raise fears about who will be next.
‘The applause after each operator’s address showed the appreciation from the gallery for our unjust situation.
‘It was disappointing then – and typical of councillors’ apathy – that after hearing all we had to say about this questionable tender process, they had the chance to do something about it and did nothing.
‘And councillors were made aware of the problems already six weeks ago. Cr Simon Richardson had planned to move an urgency motion to bring action to the issue, but the general meeting – conveniently – ran out of time.
‘He now plans to table a motion for Council’s next general meeting on 30 August.
‘He must keep his word.
‘An independent review of the request-for-tender process is underway by Byron Shire Council, but again council hasn’t made transparent who, when and what exactly it will achieve, giving us reason to believe it’s a token effort.’
Mr Edwards added that after meeting with Mr Page on Friday, Mr Page was ‘not impressed with Council’s process and may intervene. He is also considering overruling Council and issuing a stay of proceedings for myself and the other aggrieved operator, Steve Foreman, to allow us to continue to operate while the official council review is underway.
‘This is the usual process in predicaments like this, one that the Byron Shire Council acting general manager, Ray Darney, refuses to concede.’