NI local authority censured over Armed Forces Day procurement

A local authority in Northern Ireland has been ordered to apologise to a potential supplier after it failed to follow its own procurement guidelines.

The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (Nipso) upheld a complaint by Andrew McQuillan against Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council after he bid for a contract to steward events for Armed Forces Day 2016.

In a report Nipso said McQuillan had been told his company could bid for the contract but he was later informed the council had already awarded it.

McQuillan said the council did not follow its own procurement rules because it received a quote from a supplier that breached a £3,000 limit that should have triggered a formal tender process.

However, the authority entered into negotiations with the winning bidder – referred to in the report as Company A – to help the supplier keep the bid below £3,000.

McQuillan said the council worker who advised the supplier to keep its bid under the threshold was a former employee of that supplier.

McQuillan was concerned that the council’s process was designed to evade its own rules on tendering and to allow the award of a contract to a single company, which failed to secure value for money.

He also said that since complaining to the council his company no longer receives requests to quote for council contracts and believes it is being victimised for his complaint.

Nipso agreed that the council’s failure to obtain a quote from the complainant’s company to provide stewarding services at Armed Forces Day meant it failed to meet its own regulations. 

It added that the member of staff who advised Company A to keep its quote under procurement thresholds and the failure to disclose her former connection with the company were “inappropriate”.

As a result the complainant experienced the injustice of a loss of opportunity to have his proposal considered by the council and the “injustice of frustration and uncertainty and outrage based on his belief that the council’s procurement in this case was improper”.

The council has been ordered to provide a face-to-face apology to McQuillan, pay him £500, ensure he has access to future tenders, provide details on lessons it has learned, and provide training to relevant staff on best procurement practice and the employee code.

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