Two confidential documents obtained by Echonetdaily have shone a light on Byron Shire’s surf-school tender process and suggested limitations with the council’s investigation into its recent, contentious outcome.
One is the tendering scorecard for all surf schools who applied to operate, and the other is the outline of the independent review, which was commissioned after the initial botched tendering process.
Echonetdaily previously reported that the Byron Bay Surf School and elite surf coach Steve Foreman’s tender applications were pipped by competitors who offered more in the ‘fee’ criteria.
This was despite the pair being established longtime operators with impeccable records.
Council fails surf school
The report sparked debate over the fairness of the process, and a review was announced shortly after. That review is not expected for several weeks.
However, Jayme Edwards’s attempts to keep his surf school afloat failed at last Thursday’s Council meeting.
Cr Simon Richardson’s motion to allow a temporary licence was voted down, which was the last chance the ten-year established surf school had to keep going. Mojosurf took over the licence last Friday.
When Echonetdaily asked what options Mr Edwards has, Council did not comment.
Currently there are only four commercial licences and two personalised surf-instructor spots available for operators to teach surfing in Byron Shire and additional licences can only be granted by the NSW state government.
The unsuccessful bid by Cr Richardson attempted to broaden the independent investigation, specifically to do ‘an appraisal into the appropriateness of the degree of specialisation of licence-assessment panel members… the degree to which cross-referencing of tenders was conducted and recommendations as to what would be a better methodology’.
Additionally it sought to change the licence-fee criterion to be a set fee, based on market value, and be re-categorised as ‘mandatory’.
Concerns from opposing councillors at the meeting was that it would muddy the review process already in action.
Later in the day, Cr Richardson acknowledged his motion was flawed.
‘Yes, it is ad hoc and clumsy, but what I am trying to do is human. We are hiding behind process, [but] I feel that process took us here. I am trying to provide clarity and faith in a system which none of the people involved currently have.’
Public speech cut-off
During morning public access, Mr Edwards, Mr Foreman and fellow surf school operator Gary Morgan again addressed Council, pleading for an interim licence to be issued so Mr Edwards could continue his business.
At one point mayor Jan Barham appeared agitated and cautioned both speaker and councillors that ‘these matters are subject to ICAC guidelines’.
‘I am feeling uncomfortable because I am hearing things said that do not conform with the strict processes,’ she said, ‘and you’re making statements about the panel and their level of experience. This is very sensitive stuff; Council has been through issues like this before with ICAC… you need to be very careful…’
At another point, Cr Richardson asked if any of the surf-school operators had been contacted or been asked questions by the independent investigators. They all replied, ‘No’.
It was then that Cr Barham said, ‘I’m going to call this to a halt. Council has gone through a process in accordance with the guidelines. There’s been concerns raised and that is not to be determined by a community poll… I am calling this one to an end. I’m freaking out ‘cause we’ve been there before. You do not mess with it.’
Steve Foreman then asked that his statement be heard, and Barham tried very hard to quell his attempts to speak.
Eventually Cr Ross Tucker said that they should be allowed to speak, at which point everyone sighed in agreement.
It was decided that any statement or questions would be taken on notice, allowing councillors and staff not to comment.
Mr Foreman said the issue must be affecting Jayme ‘way more than me in a physical, mental way and his wellbeing as a person needs to be addressed by Council and not put under the table by bureaucracy’.
He then spoke with perplexity as to why a veteran surfing coach with a successful career should lose a position he helped to create.
Scope of review
While the scope of the review (according to Echonetdaily’s sources) is ‘limited to the process used to determine the successful tenderer for the commercial surf-school activity,’ the review will not include ‘detailed assessment of Council’s existing procurement policy and procedures’.
That means the Byron Council-specific ‘gag-order’ will not be addressed, which attempts to prevent tenderers going to the media or even seeking advice as to why their tender was not successful. By contrast, NSW government guidelines state that councils ‘may’ choose to debrief unsuccessful tenderers on request.
It did add, however, that ‘Council’s preference is for the audit report to be made a public document,’ to be able to be responded to with any enquiries from external agencies as well as members of the public.
According the scorecard marked ‘confidential’, scores for each tender submission clearly reveal scores being weighted in favour of the fee offered. What is remarkable is that fee is the only criterion that applicants either score a ten or a zero; all other criteria have a median average score.
As for experience (which is two per cent of total weighted scores), Byron Surf School and Mojo were close with 16.5 and 15.5 respectively.
Similarly, local knowledge (20 per cent) was close at 14.8 and 13.8.
Additionally, Steve Foreman received 11 out of 20 for this question but has been teaching surfing in the area for 32 years.
The rest of the scorecard shows Mr Edwards’s surf school edging out Mojo on experience in environmentally acceptable operations (10 per cent), safety (10 per cent), education (10 per cent), experience in meeting licence conditions (10 per cent), and promotion of the reserve (5 per cent).
Mr Edwards was only pipped by Mojosurf with ‘compatibility with reserve purpose (5 per cent) with 3.3 and 3.6 respectively.
It is apparent that if the fee is taken out of the equation, it distorts the final amounts.
With the licence fee, ie the amount offered (10 per cent), Byron Surf School scored zero per cent with an offer of $4000 while Mojo scored the maximum of 10 with $13,750.
What is unclear is how a score of zero per cent can be awarded, given an amount was actually offered.
Mojosurf’s Nathan Folkes told Echonetdaily his business had no past compliance issues with regards to operating without a licence.
He said, ‘Our surf trips stopped in Byron after winding up the coast, so we didn’t hold lessons here before’.
Mr Folkes encouraged all parties to unify on the issue and take it to the state level. ‘Previously we’ve worked with other operators in other regions to achieve outcomes.’
Local Ballina MP Don Page was asked to comment but did not respond by deadline.
Previously, Mr Page said he was ‘not impressed with Council’s process and may intervene’.
Mayoral candidates Cr Basil Cameron and Cr Diane Woods were also asked to comment on the issue but did not respond by deadline.
Mr Edwards says his tender application was around 1500 pages, 340 pages of which were answering criteria questions.
He claims it took three weeks of work, including the Easter and Australia Day holidays.
‘They are making us look like fools in an industry that we helped to create,’ he says.