30 June 2010 | Andy Allen
Millions of pounds have been wasted because of poor procurement practice in public sector projects in Northern Ireland.
A report by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) uncovered a series of errors and singled out areas where procurement needs to improve or be more involved in the commissioning of projects.
For example, the Belfast to Bangor railway line upgrade, originally budgeted to cost £14.7 million, ended up costing £34 million.
Translink, the Northern Ireland public transport authority, had waived the contractual right to claim damages from a poorly performing contractor. In this instance the error cost the public purse between £8 million and £13 million.
The report found: “Translink did not have basic management systems in place and its lack of control of contract variations was akin to giving the contractor a blank cheque.”
In the five-year period leading up to 2007, spending by Northern Ireland Assembly departments on consultants more than doubled to £42 million.
Although in some cases the use of consultants had ended up costing the taxpayer there had been no example where departments had been able to recover losses arising from poor consultancy advice.
“For many consultancy contracts, business cases were simply not produced,” the committee added.
From now on, according to the committee’s recommendations, all consultancy projects costing more £75,000 should be subject to competitive tendering.
The committee also recommended that consultancy work should be purchased centrally via framework agreements and managed by Centres of Procurement Expertise.
A copy of the report is available here