A second meeting took place on Friday 01st February, between the Construction Professionals’ Council for Northern Ireland (CPCNI) and Sue Gray, the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Finance and Des Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Construction & Procurement Delivery (CPD), to discuss discontinuation of the procurement of construction consultants to the Government Estate Rationalisation Framework. CPCNI was represented by Denise McMahon, Colin McCarthy and Ciarán Fox.
The meeting was refreshingly honest with positive engagement from all parties. CPD were quick to acknowledge that the manner in which the discontinuation of the framework had been announced, and the subsequent information provided to qualifying tenderers, fell below desirable standards.
CPD advised that the decision to discontinue the framework was primarily due to the unavailability of funding for the proposed programme, but that the legal challenge relating to this framework did play a part in the decision to discontinue. CPCNI representatives highlighted industry concern with the rationale being the unavailability of funding, specifically as this is in relation to a framework type contract.
During the course of the meeting the following was established:
• Compensation for the nine bidding teams was explored, but it was not deemed a viable option;
• The Department is committed to the office rationalisation programme and will be investing in the government office estate in line with significantly reduced budgets;
• The Hope Street project will not be proceeding;
• The soon to be announced CPD framework will not be used to procure construction professional services contracts that were originally earmarked to be procured through the Government Office Estates Rationalisation Framework;
• The issue that the legal challenge brought to light, regarding the process of submitting tenders via eTendersNI, would be reviewed to ensure future procurements would not be affected by the same issue.
Both CPCNI and CPD are committed to restoring industry confidence in public procurement and ensuring that all ‘lessons learnt’ are implemented. The following actions have been identified as positive next steps:
• CPD and the Finance Permanent Secretary have agreed to meet with each of the 9 qualifying tenderers individually, to fully explain the rationale behind the discontinuation of the framework;
• CPD has agreed to explore measures to ensure that any work undertaken by both qualifying tenderers and the Department itself was not nugatory. Measures under consideration include rescinding the discontinuation notice, or a possible relaunch of a similar framework tender;
• It has been recognised that an informal dispute resolution process during tender stage would be beneficial to both industry and CPD; a means to implement this is currently being explored;
• A user forum for industry to engage with CPD regarding the operation of eTendersNI will be set up;
• Improvements to the clarifications process during tenders will be developed in consultation with the professions.
The collapse of the framework and the subsequent meetings have highlighted wider issues with public sector procurement, in particular the limitations and restrictions associated with yearly budgets. CPCNI will collaborate with the Department of Finance to promote the benefits and to drive the implementation of longer funding cycles. Further updates regarding this matter will be communicated in due course.
CPCNI is aware that the situation that prompted this series of meetings was unfortunate. However, it must be recognised that CPCNI is working hard to ensure that positive steps are taken towards the betterment of public procurement in Northern Ireland. Once again we thank you for your patience on this matter.