Ferry deal criticised

19 December 2008
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19 December 2008 | Paul Snell

The Northern Ireland Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) has been chastised for mistakes during a tender process to find a new ferry service provider.

In April, the NI Department for Regional Development (DRD) awarded a contract for a ferry service from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island, just off the coast.

This was the second time it had tendered the service. The first was abandoned when the DRD ruled two of the three bids to be non-compliant, and the third too expensive.

But following the contract award there were complaints that the CPD, which carried out the process for the DRD, had broken procurement rules. The claims included that the outcome of the tender was politically motivated and the process was a "done deal".

The DRD appointed consultant Steve Rowsell, currently in charge of procurement for London's Crossrail project, to investigate the process.

The review found although outcome of the tender was not affected, the CPD did make mistakes. The "key" error was sending out the wrong assessment details with the second tender that even "basic quality assurance should have prevented".

The investigation found no evidence that any supplier was favoured, and rejected other complaints that the winning bid did not meet specific requirements in the tender.

The report recommended the CPD review its documentation procedures to ensure they are operating effectively. The CPD should also ensure tenders are as clear as possible, to reduce confusion among bidders, and make sure records are kept so that procurement decision can be supported.

The DRD welcomed the fact the report had found "nothing untoward" in its approach or decision-making.


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