13 December 2007 | Helen Gilbert
A supplier who failed to win a contract to maintain breathing apparatus has won damages of £122,149.
Aquatron Breathing Air Systems sued Strathclyde Fire Board claiming tendering rules were breached.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh last month heard how three firms (including Aquatron) bidding for a contract to undertake breathing apparatus maintenance and other work had been treated unfairly.
Inexperienced staff handling the tendering process, rather than bad faith, was blamed for the treatment.
Aquatron, which in April 2004 offered to take on the work for three years at a cost of £222,300, was turned down at an early stage because the board felt the firm lacked skilled staff to fulfil the contract.
But it later emerged that a letter from Aquatron outlining staff experience and qualifications was not taken into account.
Thomas Young, senior partner at Aquatron, told SM: "We were £31,740 cheaper than the successful people but because they had not received all the information that we submitted they decided we didn't have the people to do the job."
Despite the outcome, Young urged suppliers in similar situations to weigh up the pros and cons before fighting for a case. "It took us three years of worry and heartache, cost a huge amount of money and put the whole business at risk," he said. "If we had lost this case the business would have been set back on its heels dramatically."
A Strathclyde Fire Board spokesman said: "We are currently considering the court's opinion."
The victory follows a separate case in October that saw a judge throw out an attempt by a supplier to stop its customer Firebuy doing a deal with another vendor (News, 18 October 2007).
In that case and using regulation 32 of the Public Services Contracts Regulations 1993, the would-be supplier Lion Apparel Systems called for an injunction to prevent the fire and rescue services' purchasing arm from signing a personal protective equipment contract with Bristol Uniforms.
Lion Apparel made the request after failing to be named preferred bidder for the Integrated Clothing Project (ICP) - the first national procurement project for fire and rescue wear. After a six-day hearing last month the judge found no case for 10 of the 13 alleged breaches in the procurement process.