Watchdog blasts “rigged” £11m theatre contract

Grant Prior 8 years ago
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Spending watchdogs said they have a “strong impression” that the tender race to build Belfast’s £11m Lyric Theatre was “rigged and manipulated.”

A report published by the Public Accounts Committee is highly critical of the bidding process which saw the job awarded to Gilbert Ash.

Ash won the job in 2008 despite its tender originally being the most expensive.

The report reveals that costs pf £413,000 were stripped-out of the winning bid by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The report states: “The adjustments resulted in the most costly tender submission becoming the most economically advantageous tender, and the contractor was selected as the preferred bidder on that basis.

“Despite stripping out £413,000 from the successful tender, the Department was unable to provide any reason why this amount was later paid in full.”

The Chairperson of the Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA said: “The quality of the rebuilt Lyric Theatre is undisputed; we recognise that it is a highly impressive theatre and that it has deservedly won a number of prestigious awards.

“However, the end does not justify the means. My Committee has found that there were significant departures from good practice in the award of this £11 million contract, and this is completely unacceptable.”

Gilbert Ash told the BBC it had “no control over the adjustment to tender costs made during the procurement process” – a practice it described “as standard in our industry to allow for like-for-like comparison of bids”.

PAC concerns over the contract process:

  • A number of completely unacceptable departures from long-established principles of good practice were made in awarding the Lyric Theatre rebuild contract.
  • A number of unexplained adjustments were made to the tender submissions, and the Department of Finance and Personnel’s Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) confirmed that this is not normal practice;
  • Despite £413,000 being stripped out from one of the tenders, this cost was later paid in full;
  • The private sector consultants who produced the tender evaluation report destroyed the tendering documentation very promptly after the tender evaluation meeting;
  • Proper arrangements were not put in place for either the sponsoring bodies (the Department and the Arts Council) or their technical advisors (CPD) to attend the tender evaluation meeting;
  • The Department, the Arts Council and CPD all received a copy of the tender evaluation report but failed to raise any concerns; and
  • The preferred bidder provided a donation of £150,000 to the Lyric Theatre.
  • Taking all of the points in the round the Committee is left with a very strong impression that the outcome of the tender process was both rigged and manipulated

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