A couple of days ago came the news that AssetCo, who were responsible for maintaining London's fire engines, had sold on the contract to a company called AB&A Investments for £2. The actual sale wasn't that unusual and the fire brigade insisted there would be no change. The only odd thing was that nobody seemed to know much about the buyers.
Cue London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore. He's done research at Companies House and found that AB&A Investments was only incorporated last month, so has no track record. Dismore also looked up the sole named director, Sir Aubrey Thomas Brocklebank, trained chartered accountant and Baronet. He's been the director of 69 companies in his varied business life. Three of his current directorships, venture capital trusts, are in liquidation and one of the others is a 2CV racing team.
Dismore questions, and no wonder, whether such a company is appropriate to run something so important as making sure London has its firefighting equipment in proper working order. We can't imagine a company in a similar situation being awarded a contract direct from a public body, yet the nature of PFI means it was free to snap up the contract from AssetCo without being accountable to anyone.
11.30am update: Fellow Assembly Member and LFEPA Chair James Cleverly has responded to Andrew Dismore's concerns. He brings up the fact there were serious concerns about AssetCo's performance and financial viability and that the fleet is actually owned by Lloyds, not the contractor. He concludes:
I therefore do not have additional concerns about the operation of this contract or the delivery of the fleet replacement programme as a result of this sale.
Dismore – never one to mince words – has called Cleverly's response "remarkably and unacceptably complacent". If there were concerns about the struggling AssetCo's ability to do the job, there should presumably be the same concerns about this new and untested entity's ability to do the same. Similarly, how much do we know about the company's funding to replace the fleet? It might all be fine, of course, but questions need asking.