Welcome to the Keystone Column. This week more news stories about breaches in procurement rules and the consquences of not following procurement best practice. All is not lost however: InterTradeIreland shows how small businesses can follow procurement best practice. As usual, we conclude with our weekly list of current Irish public tenders.
Putting a floor under carpet prices
A Meath man has been given a suspended sentence for taking part in a ‘carpet cartel’. The price-fixing involved one of Ireland’s biggest commercial flooring firms, Aston Carpets and Flooring (ACF), which was fined €10,000 this week following a cartel investigation into collusion on contract tendering with rival firm Carpet Centre Contracts (CCC) between 2011 and 2013. Over two years of secret meetings in a Dublin cafe, agreements were reached between ACF and CCC about the prices to quote for 16 flooring projects for multinationals such as Google. They effectively then conspired to carve up several contracts between them. A former director of ACF, Brendan Smith, was also convicted at the Central Criminal Court and received a suspended three-month prison sentence and a €7,500 fine.
The prosecutions followed a four-year probe by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), and are the first criminal convictions for bid rigging in the history of the State.
The Irish Times reports that a sister company, Crean Mosaics (t/a Aston Crean), received millions of euro from State-funded projects, even after criminal charges were filed against the other group company. The State projects include the new Central Bank building and new divisional Garda headquarters at Kevin Street in Dublin, as well as hospitals and schools.
Anglo trial – Failure to follow procurement best practice threatened admissibility of key evidence
The fallout continues following the collapse of the Sean FitzPatrick trial, the former Chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. The trial judge, John Aylmer, outlined numerous failings in how the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) conducted its investigation with the result that Sean FitzPatrick could not receive a fair trial.
The Irish Independent outlines how the ODCE spent more than €300,000 on expert testimony from London accountancy firm Mazars for the Sean FitzPatrick trial, the securing of which breached EU laws on public procurement. Not only that, most of it was deemed inadmissable!
The evidence of one Mazars witness, Nigel Grummit, was deemed inadmissible by trial judge John Aylmer as being “irrelevant, unhelpful, unnecessary and of no probative value and being entirely prejudicial”. The evidence of the other Mazars expert, forensic accountant David Dearman, was deemed admissible but only after his report was revised to incorporate “significant concessions” made by the prosecution following a series of challenges by Mr FitzPatrick’s defence team.
The manner in which the ODCE secured the cross-border tender was the subject of legal argument during the trial, with the ODCE conciding that “In terms of… compliance with procurement obligations, the process was bespoke… and so that it does not tick all the boxes from a procurement perspective.”
In a ruling issued last March, 10 days before the case against Mr FitzPatrick collapsed, Judge Aylmer the admission of Mr Dearman’s evidence was far more consistent with the public interest in the administration of criminal justice than excluding it in order to “penalise the technical breaches” of the prescribed EU procurement process.
“There were significant confidentiality issues and the ODCE, as procurer, had little or no experience in how properly to overcome these issues and remain fully compliant with EU procurement law,” said the judge. In a statement, the Department of Jobs said it understood that experts were engaged by the ODCE following a competitive tendering process.
“The terms of reference were drawn up in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Counsel,” said a spokesperson.
InterTradeIreland – supporting procurement best practice
InterTradeIreland has announced a series of events to support SMEs seeking to win more public work.
Water Industry Frameworks
Together with Irish Water, InterTradeIreland will host a series of FREE briefings to inform suppliers of Irish Water’s plans to establish a Framework for Repairs and Maintenance in 2017. These briefings are aimed at Micro Businesses and SMEs operating within the sector and the wider water industry.
The briefings will inform SMEs and raise awareness about: How frameworks work; what Contracting Authorities may be looking for; guidance on completing documentation and electronic formatting; how to prepare and where to find opportunities.
More information on registration is available here. Dates are available in various locations right across Ireland between 7 June and 19 June.
Supplier Engagement – Border Region and NI
Next up is a supplier engagement event on 21 June focusing on NI and the border counties. Suppliers will have the opportunity to meet with procurement personnel from the 11 councils in Northern Ireland and 6 border councils of Ireland, representatives from the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) in Northern Ireland and the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) in Ireland. Small businesses will:
- Have the opportunity to meet with the buyers face to face
- Hear what the councils require from them
- Hear about upcoming procurement opportunities
- Get assistance with registeration on public procurement portals on the island
- Find out about tendering supports available to them
New public procurement tenders this week
Visit the Keystone website to view our take on the 500+ active public procurement opportunities with more than five days until their deadline. There are a vast range of services, supplies and construction related to public procurement opportunities in the following sectors (there are many more sectors than the sample list below):
- Construction and related trades,
- Professional & Advisory Services,
- PR, Media, Advertising and related,
- ICT supplies and services,
- Property & facilities management,
- Vehicle & automotive,
- Catering and related services,
- Cleaning and related services,
- Waste Management,
- Maintenance and related services,
- Horticultural supplies & services,
- Research & environmental monitoring,
- Printing, office supplies and related services,
- Medical and scientific research, supplies and services,
- A vast range of other services and supplies.
Businesses interested in any of these strategic procurement opportunities that are unsure of how they can follow-up on these tenders can contact Keystone at any stage. We would be happy to discuss your needs and where they may fit with your business growth plans. These public procurement opportunities are sources of business growth and innovation for companies across the country.
Please note, e-tenders often has public procurement opportunities incorrectly categorised so people relying on e-tender alerts could easily miss out on opportunities if they are dependent on it. E-tenders is only as reliable as the people inputting tenders and mistakes are made very frequently. The Keystone Column includes all live tenders posted on e-tenders that have five or more days until their deadline as at June 1st 2017.