23 December 2009 | Jake Kanter
Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) has been accused of breaking procurement rules in the award of professional services deals worth £250,000.
The Yorkshire Post reported that 19 consultancy and training contracts were not competitively tendered in 2008-09 and that 12 of these were approved by internal budget holders after they were awarded.
Responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, LMU told the newspaper that in one example a single supplier received £62,000 to promote and market the university in Northern Ireland. The deal was approved “retrospectively” on grounds that the consultancy was the only supplier capable of providing the service. LMU has since decided to retender the contract.
The Yorkshire Post also obtained a copy of purchasing manager Mike Briggs’s annual report, where he raised concerns about “poor practice” on professional services procurement. In it he reportedly says: “While it is understandable that resource centres want to appoint individuals and companies they have knowledge and confidence in, the fact is that as a public body we are required to open our business up to competition and provide evidence that we are obtaining optimal value for money.”
An LMU spokeswoman told SM: “Under the financial regulations, the procurement of goods and services above specified values is subject to different levels of competition. Waivers from these provisions may be granted in certain circumstances.
“While it is straightforward to subject many purchases to competition, it is more difficult to do so for consultancy and training services because the services they provide are often highly specialised. In these circumstances, it can be problematic to identify direct competitors with whom an accurate price comparison can be effected.”
She said the university is committed to openness and transparency and that its procurement team is working with stakeholders to ensure professional services spend is subject to competition “wherever possible”.
The findings form part of a wider investigation by the Yorkshire Post into financial management at LMU. Earlier this year, the newspaper alleged university staff misused procurement cards for "irregular" purchases. LMU strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The news came as business secretary Lord Mandelson said the government is to cut university funding by £533 million – from £7.81 billion this year to £7.29 billion for 2010-11.