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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Call it a $59 million misunderstanding.

Earlier this month, a minor controversy developed after Newmarket business owners felt snubbed because they hadn’t been invited to a meeting where they thought they could bid on potentially lucrative contracts on nearby RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall.

The local press reported the story, and soon merchants were on the phone with bureaucrats, complaining about being left off the guest list of the meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Kevin Hancock, president of the Newmarket Business Association, called the meeting “unfair,” charging that only businesses selected by Forest Heath District Council strategic director Tony Pierce were invited.

But Air Force officials said no bids would be accepted at the meeting.

Lt. Col. Julie Wittkoff, 48th Contract Squadron Commander, said the meeting is purely informational and that no contracts will be put up for bid at that time. She supervises contracting services for 10 Air Forces installations across the United Kingdom and Iceland.

“The meeting will be held to make them (local businesses) more familiar with the procedures. This is not a bidding conference,” Wittkoff said. “There is constantly stuff up for bid and we rarely hold one meeting for contracts unless it’s for a very large item that requires special attention.”

A spokeswoman for the Forest Heath District Council also said the Newmarket businesses weren’t snubbed. Sally Rode, the council’s corporate development and communications officer, said the only reason members of the Newmarket Business Association were not invited was due to a lack of space.

The matter is of major importance to Hancock, who represents 130 businesses in the greater Newmarket area in a group roughly analogous to an American chamber of commerce.

Wittkoff said she allots approximately 33 million pounds — nearly $59 million — in contracts annually in services that range from custodial services to bird control.

There are currently more than 700 contract actions a year for furniture, appliance, audio visual equipment and office suppliers. There are also more than 150 contracts under $100,000 for medical equipment maintenance, unit vehicle lease and other professional services.

Contracts over $100,000 include custodial care, laundry and dry cleaning as well as furniture removal.

“That would be a huge boost to the local economy and it needs to be spent effectively and efficiently by letting the most groups compete,” Hancock said.

Wittkoff agreed.

She said her office plans to hold additional meetings with other local merchant groups.

“The goal is to do more of these in the future,” Wittkoff said. “We would like to have a series of meetings if possible.”

For now, however, the Forest Heath District Council informational breakfast meeting will be held Thursday at the council’s Mildenhall office — without the Newmarket Business Association.

But, after filing a complaint with the Forest Heath District Council, businesses from the Newmarket Business Association will be able to attend a similar meeting in January.

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