“an absolutely disgraceful saga of political and civil service failure”

The negotiations over Workplace 2010 were suspended at the end of October last year whilst the two remaining bidders prepared to merge – another unsuccessful bidder, Partenaire, which brought a legal challenge to the procurement process in August 2007, was awarded damages in a confidential legal settlement in January last year. The Irish News reports today that the 3 and a half year long negotiations have now been terminated “putting the process right back to the start”. [subs req]

Government expenditure on the contract negotiations for the failed project is estimated at between £12million and £15m. The treasury has also lost out on up to £175million in revenue that would have been paid to the government by the successful bidder for the commercial value of its land. The value of the land has plummeted due to the financial crisis.

Sir Richard Needham, chairman of Telereal’s advisory board for the Workplace 2010 bid and a former economy minister in the north described the collapse as “one of the worst and most appalling disasters I’ve seen in my public life”. “It is an absolutely disgraceful saga of political and civil service failure. This tender process has been going on for an exceptionally long time for a PFI,” he said.

continued

A DFP official said that even though the final two bidders for the contract had been told it could not go ahead with them, this did not mean the contract had collapsed.

“We are reviewing the procurement during the suspension and will decide on a way ahead over the next few weeks,” the official said.

DFP declined to speculate over the potential cost and timeframe for rerunning the bidding process.

But according to Sir Richard Needham, there is no fallback.

“The department was told privately months ago that this merger was going to happen and they should have speeded up the process but because they spent so much wasted time and money, I now can’t see any circumstances under which Telereal would be prepared to come back to the table,” he said.

“Even if they tried to restart this process I can tell you now most of the serious bidders in this process wouldn’t come back and commercial property prices have collapsed anyway.”

The government’s handling of the Workplace 2010 contract was criticised in January last year after Partenaire, and unsuccessful bidder for the deal, was awarded damages by a court in a confidential legal settlement.

The Irish News understands the basis for the financial settlement, which has remained secret until now, was mismanagement by DFP.

, , ,

  • LURIG

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! What more sheer incompetence do senior Civil Service managers have to show before they get the sack? At a time when badly paid clerks on the frontline are taking ALL the public anger and frustration these management clowns are losing millions through basic stupidity AND getting away with it. Year in year out auditors expose waste and error in places like the Social Security Agency and NOTHING happens and now this. The trade union NIPSA warned that this would happen. There now has to be an urgent independent investigation into the mismanagement of the Civil Service. Heads should roll, sackings of incompetent managers must happen and the ministers who allowed this to go on despite the warnings MUST resign. The NI Civil Service is a complete shambles.

  • fair_deal

    Considering the changes to various institutions in NI it always amazed me how one remained largely immune (apart from putting a local minister at the top and an Assembly committee to report to), the NICS, even though they had been the effective permanent fully detached politbureau for 30 odd years.

  • Driftwood

    I would question that word ‘effective’ in your post FD, it might be taken as meaning the NICS have done a good job. They have been the guardians of mediocrity and ineptiude for decades.

  • pacman

    “We are reviewing the procurement during the suspension and will decide on a way ahead over the next few weeks,”

    TRANSLATION:

    We’ll quietly bury this in a few months and hope no-one notices.

  • Jo

    Rather than blame civil servants, who after all do what they’re told by Ministers, why not critically examine the entire charade that is PPP/PFI?

    Private Eye carries a regular slot on this nonsense and it is the policy rather than the people who cocked up here, and in innumerable other situations where this policy has been implemented. These policies commit ever-increasing levels of public funds in the future and reduce the amount of money for decades to come, that could more usefully be spent elsewhere.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! What more sheer incompetence do senior Civil Service managers have to show before they get the sack? At a time when badly paid clerks on the frontline are taking ALL the public anger and frustration these management clowns are losing millions through basic stupidity AND getting away with it. Year in year out auditors expose waste and error in places like the Social Security Agency and NOTHING happens and now this. The trade union NIPSA warned that this would happen. There now has to be an urgent independent investigation into the mismanagement of the Civil Service. Heads should roll, sackings of incompetent managers must happen and the ministers who allowed this to go on despite the warnings MUST resign. The NI Civil Service is a complete shambles. ”

    They should get a few of their paid ex civil servants into “investigate independently”.

    That should exonerate the Civil Service of any wrongdoing. Perhaps they might uncover a few procedural mistakes and “errors of judgement” there too

  • fair_deal

    Driftwood

    Meant a different sense of effective, apologies if in any way I implied competency on the NICS.

    PT

    You forgot concluding it was a collective failure and thus no individuals can be considered responsible.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “You forgot concluding it was a collective failure and thus no individuals can be considered responsible.”

    Except those who might have brought the problems to public attention, but then it can cost in the region of £55,000 of public money to do that.

    DRD apparently kind find the right people to provide the whitewash, ahem sorry report

  • “There now has to be an urgent independent investigation into the mismanagement of the Civil Service”

    Lurig, there’s just been an ‘independent’ investigation into the titchy Rathlin ferry saga. It cost a relatively large sum of money and more or less ended up blaming (and identifying some of) the complainants.

    FoI requests have released documents either held or processed by four Governments and some of these documents have been altered by person or persons as yet not identified. Some documents have been released which were not even requested. There’s been such a mess that it would be difficult to apportion motive, let alone ministerial and civil servant blame; permanent secretaries act as chief accounting officers.

    Government departments would appear to have exceeded their public service obligations, leading to the ‘decimation’ of competing private operator businesses – and the possible attention of EU Commission officials.

    Exposure has come mainly from bloggers and public-minded citizens rather than from Government committees and the MSM – with a few honourable exceptions.

  • “it was a collective failure”

    fair_deal, perhaps the relevant Minister and Permanent Secretary/Chief Accounting Officer could fall on their swords – in no particular order. They could also forgo their emoluments and gongs.

  • “civil servants … do what they’re told by Ministers”

    Can you prove that, Jo? 🙂

  • “cost in the region of £55,000 of public money”

    .. and then a procurement official holes the good ship “Independent Investigation” below the waterline. A comparison was made WITHOUT the benefit of scoring!!

  • “We’ll quietly bury this in a few months and hope no-one notices.”

    Well said, pacman. Interment was so much easier before the arrival of the likes of emara News. Shhh. Don’t tell Daithí.

  • Declan O’Loan: “We must be able to have confidence in the management of this project,”

    That would be this Declan O’Loan ….

  • LURIG

    Sorry I don’t buy into this ‘Civil Servants only do what they are told’ nonsense. Didn’t YES MINISTER & YES PRIME MINISTER show that civil servants make all the important decisions and hold the real levers of power. Governments and ministers come and go and mainly rely on ‘advice and guidance’ from civil servants who stay in post decade in decade out. The NI Civil Service management are an arrogant out of touch clique who live and move in a bubble of their own self importance safe in the knowledge they will NOT be made accountable for their incompetence and mismanagement. It’s been going on for years. As I have stated auditors have been highlighting and pointing out the same mistakes within the Social Security Agency for years and NOTHING has been done. The Social Security Agency recently released proposals that will close half the dole offices in NI at a time when unemployment is shooting through the roof and are STILL going ahead with it. SHEER MADNESS that will leave many vulnerable and needy people worse off and waiting longer for help including a lot of redundant people who have never claimed benefits before waiting weeks for money. In the last year there have been dozens of internal middle and senior management promotion boards within the NI Civil Service while the lower clerk grades remain understaffed and under immense pressure. It’s no great surprise that most of the sickness levels happens at these lower grades but no one within the Executive or media will investigate or report this. The sheer duplicity of jobs and repetitive layers of management burocracy are astounding. The old joke about meetings about meetings certainly applies there. They sit in Stormont offices so out of touch with those on the coal face of delivering public services. If the Executive wants to make savings in the public sector they should slash the EO2 & EO1 middle management structure in half and do away with unnecessary headless chicken senior grades like SO & DP which are a ridiculous useless waste of money.

  • “The Irish News understands the basis for the financial settlement, which has remained secret until now, was mismanagement by DFP.”

    And there’s more ‘mismanagement’ involving several (DUP and SF) Government departments:

    Henry Brothers, F B McKee, Woodvale Construction and McLaughlin and Harvey

    Who’s chuckling now?

  • “out of touch clique who live and move in a bubble”

    There’s much in what you say about these small ’empires’, Lurig, but I can demonstrate that they’re in touch with kindred spirits in Dublin and Edinburgh. It’s alleged that they leave the bubble to provide ‘clarification’ to certain bidders but why this should be so remains unclear.

  • How some of them are related:

    “GROUP NON-EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN [of Phoenix Natural Gas]
    SIR GERRY LOUGHRAN KCB,

    Other Current Posts:

    Chairman, Grafton Recruitment
    Chairman Partenaire Limited
    Director, Allied Irish Bank (UK)
    Director, Kellen Acquisitions Limited
    Honorary Professor of Innovation, Queen’s University
    Director, Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe

    Former post: Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and Secretary to the Executive (Cabinet) until October 2002.

    Other posts: Permanent Secretary Department of Economic Development, with responsibilities for industry, trade, inward investment, employment, training, tourism, energy, equality, consumers interests and corporate regulation.

    Deputy Secretary, Department of the Environment with responsibility for Town and Country Planning and regeneration of Belfast and other urban areas, including the River Lagan.”

  • The Raven

    My personal feeling? That the whole process of public procurement, added to the ability for unsuccessful tenderers to look for redress upon redress means that it has just got completely out of control.

    I have no doubt that there were f**k-ups in this, and other (Nevin) processes. But there are literally hundreds of other procurements from the very large to the very small that go absolutely unhindered.

    The paperwork that goes with them is immense, having seen some of them firsthand. I really think it’s time for a rethink on the process of public procurement.

    Lurig, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has nothing to be proud of, given the £23m (and growing exponentially) that it costs every couple of years. By the way, is it just Stormont or are there other offices, perhaps nearby, that you want to target?

    By the by, and while stating the bleeding obvious, society is an expensive thing to run. We demand more and more from it. And yet, while the NIAO and the PAC rule the roost, expect no innovation from our Departments.

  • Jo

    Lurig

    In fact, promotion boards cascade down through all ranks of the NICS. Further, NICS staff are disadvantaged in terms of annual increments, which, for example are enjoyed by DVLA staff in Swansea but not Coleraine. Though they do the same job.

    No-one below the max. rate for their position can now attain that position (defined as the rate for the job) in NI whereas in the UK, progression is associated with experience at grade. So if you see a CS job advertised at £21-28000, you will be paid £21,000 and have that lifted by inflation (or deflation!) You will not, under the present system, ever be paid £28,000.

  • Jo

    Nevin

    You forgot *Grumpy old man* 🙂

  • Jo,

    Horse’s mouth: “It’s very difficult to get information from Civil Servants”.

  • “there were f**k-ups in this”

    More serious allegations have been made, Raven. For example, would you be surprised if a civil service administrator accompanied a tenderer whose errand was to acquire a key item for a service that was to be supplied?

  • The Raven

    I am never surprised when the f**k-up strays beyond the comical and into the monumental…

  • Jo

    Nevin

    FoI, It takes a lot of time but if anything is concealed, woe betide.

  • anon

    Whats the point in even moaning about Civil Service management, it’s been a joke for years and nothing looks to be changing

  • “FoI, It takes a lot of time but if anything is concealed, woe betide.”

    Where’s the woe, Jo?

    A few months ago I put in a request for a document that had been online but was ‘missing in action’ – apart from the HTML version that was in Google cache.

    The initial reaction by DRD was to treat it as an FoI request ie to offer a response within the 20 working day limit.

    When I pointed out that the document had already been in the public domain I got a speedy response: an apology and a copy of the document.

    Have you looked at the DRD website?

    “The Department for Regional Development’s website is experiencing technical difficulties. We are currently providing a reduced service whilst addressing the problem.”

    This ‘problem’ has been there for at least six months!!

  • Driftwood

    LURIG
    Great post 15
    I hope you don’t mind that I copied it and emailed it on to several public sector colleagues who will pretty much go along with your sentiments.
    Likewise Jo’s later post re: increments

    But Turkeys are running the show here and they aint gonna vote for Christmas.