Kildare VEC tender issues highlighted

A Government’s watchdog on public spending has reported a number of deficiencies in the way Kildare VEC bought goods and services over a five year period.

A Government’s watchdog on public spending has reported a number of deficiencies in the way Kildare VEC bought goods and services over a five year period.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in a publicly available report, highlighted procurement deficiencies in 13 of a sample of 27 IT purchases between 2006 and 2010.

The Government rules aim to ensure that fair competition, but openness and transparency in public business, operate.

But CAG, John Buckley, found that Kildare VEC, which is in a battle for patronage of a new school in Maynooth, had “shortcomings” in a number of large and smaller purchases.

The VEC spent €1.9m on ICT between 2006 and 2010.

The CAG examined five of these worth over €50,000 and found that one had no evidence of tenders, as required by Public Procurement Guidelines. Five other purchases between €5000 and €50,000 had no evidence of quotes, although the rules stated that there should be evidence of responses from at least three suppliers.

The report said ICT payments included €406,000 to one company – unnamed by the CAG - which was formed by a person who had previously worked on a short term basis by the VEC. Another €486,000 payments were made to this company for maintenance, consumable and other services.

A maintenance contract with the same company, agreed in 2006, was rolled over, at the same cost until 2010, when an increase was agreed. These services were priced at €80,000 over the four years.

In this case, evidence of quotes was available in only three of the 14 cases where quotations from at least three suppliers were required.

VEC CEO Sean Ashe said their research found the company’s maintenance quotes 30% cheaper than those being paid elsewhere and that the full VEC had authorised this contract.

In some cases, details of quotes or tenders could not be located but Mr. Ashe told Mr. Buckley that the requirements had been followed but documentation had been “misfiled.”

Mr Ashe said the company had not been treated any more or less favourably than others.

The CAG said from May 2006, a national voluntary framework for the supply of personal computers and related services, was available for all non commercial public sector agencies and Kildare VEC had “limited recourse” to this.

Mr Ashe said the framework had a limited range of products and highlighted other difficulties. In one case, printers were not included initially and when introduced the models were not robust enough. In addition, the school had to pay more for installation and recycling.

He also said that when problems arose following installation, it was not clear whether the hardware supplier or installer was responsible, leading to delays.

Mr Buckley recommended to the Department of Education and Skills that any factors preventing the optimum us of the voluntary procurement framework “should be examined on a system wide basis.”

The CAG report also said that the VEC had hired auctioneers, who were paid €139,150, in 2008, for the sale of a school site with going for tender.

Another company – unnamed by the CAG - , which was paid €759,150 from 2005-2010 and a further €72,634 in 2011, was hired as a project manager for the building of a new school without competitive tender.

The VEC had also hired a building design team for Pipers Hill – ultimately paid, just over €2.5m were an open procurement process was not undertaken but Mr Ashe said rates for the design team were less than the agreed rate on offer from the Department of Education at the time.

The report, which on on the CAG website, also gives detail on the land deal, whereby the State has injected €20 million into the VEC following the non completion of a sale of a property which was intended to fund the transaction.

- Henry Bauress