“As far as I’m concerned it’s business as usual.”

Perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase deployed by the Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, of a department whose Permanent Secretary has just been suspended pending investigation over the NI Water saga – ostensibly for surreptitiously drafting a letter of complaint to the PAC [for a third party].

Meanwhile, UTV’s Jamie Delargy reports that Northern Ireland Electricity has also been guilty of not putting out some contracts to competitive tendering.

While the proper process was followed with some of the contracts analysed, with others – particularly for legal services – PKF found: “Competitive tendering is the exception rather than the norm”.

The value of the improperly approved contracts is not disclosed but it is thought to be modest compared with the total uncovered at Northern Ireland Water.

Current Northern Ireland Water Chief Executive Laurence MacKenzie was in charge at NIE during most of the period when the contract failings occurred. [added emphasis]

“That’s something that should be of concern to Northern Ireland Water as they survey what they’ve been doing wrong because there’s such a parallel. Four people were sacked (from NI Water) because contracts were not put out to competitive tender when they should have been”, UTV’s Business Editor Jamie Delargy explained.

Four non-executive directors at Northern Ireland Water were fired in March, after an internal audit revealed contracts worth millions of pounds had been improperly approved.

NI Water Chief Executive Laurence MacKenzie was not one of those sacked by the Regional Development Minister in March

And on Mick’s question of an appalling vista…  From the UTV report

On Monday, Regional Development Conor Murphy defended Mr MacKenzie.

“That was a matter for NIE; they’re a private company,” he told UTV.

“He (Laurence MacKenzie) is the person who came forward and said: ‘There are things going wrong in this company (Northern Ireland Water); they need to be addressed’; and on that basis we launched an investigation.”

That assumes that the IRT “got to the core of issues”…

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  • William Markfelt

    ‘Current Northern Ireland Water Chief Executive Laurence MacKenzie was in charge at NIE during most of the period when the contract failings occurred.’

    Amazing that he didn’t pick up on them in his nine years at NIE, but found them in NIW in nine weeks.

  • “London consultants PKF were asked by the Utility Regulator to investigate the failings.” UTV link above

    So where are the findings on the UR website? Not so much as a squeak?

  • Mick

    Indeed. This, along with the silence from the consumer council and the machinations of the person who set up the IRTand you would think the Minister would be a little more cautious in expressing his public confidence in any of the main characters in this drama.

    Given the corruption of process we have already witnessed it beggars believe the minister considers anything done in his name as being reliable.

  • William Markfelt

    Just reading Eamonn’s tweets, Im wondering if, so far as DRD/NIW etc are concerned, today might be a good day to bury bad news.

    I suspect that, come midday, the media (or most of Slugger’s correspondents) won’t be expressing an enormous amount of interest in NIW or the DRD,

  • Pigeon Toes

    It’s odd or indeed hypocritical of DRD to have been making all the fuss about procurement issues at NIW, way back in March.

    At the time they were defending their own procurement through the European Commission, by stating that a “simple call for Expressions of Interest ” would have been adequate. That is despite, apparently going through a competitive tendering process (twice).
    So their defence was what they could have done, not what they actually did.
    “As far as I’m concerned it’s business as usual.”
    Quite.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Meanwhile, UTV’s Jamie Delargy reports that Northern Ireland Electricity has also been guilty of not putting out some contracts to competitive tendering.

    Isn’t NIE private though ? In which case this a matter of concern only to shareholders.

  • CS, it was also a concern of the regulator. That’s why he set up an investigation.

  • Cynic

    Very few companies do put legal advice out to competitive tender must less chose the lowest price. Its one of those areas where ‘lowest price’ is totally meaningless as a good firm may charge more but save you millions or take half the time for the job

  • Cynic

    The problem is just what does the Minister consider ‘Business As Usual’ to be. Some of us are shocked – nay appalled – at what appears to have passed as ‘business as usual’ in his Department

  • Mick, I think this ministerial quote on UTV on August 16 needs some teasing out: “.. so the core issue is here is that attention my attention was brought to the fact, initially in relation to one contract that there was something on-toward going on within NIW and I asked for further inquiries into that and that turned up 73 contracts with £24.5 million of awarding of contracts which couldn’t be defended which was done in an improper fashion”.

    Does he mean the Dixon Review and the ‘deep dive’ audit or is it more general than that? Is there a paper trail from the Minister [or his special advisor] to the DRD Permanent Secretary and the NIW CEO re. these requests? Were the latter two using their own initiatives or were they working to a brief?

  • Mick

    And the regulator. And the PAC since McK was asked a very specific question that does not tally with what’s been said by the regulator.

    I’ll write about this in detail when I get back, but I can only ask what the Consumer Council knew about all of this? And what passed bet their CEO and the Minister yesterday?

    And sharif the only survivor of the Board. Don Price?

  • Cynic and PT, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that we’ve had three (DUP) Ministers of Procurement since devolution was restored in 2007 as well as a Procurement Board:

    “The Board is chaired by the Finance Minister and membership comprises the Permanent Secretaries of the 11 Northern Ireland Departments. This ensures that there is compliance with agreed policies and procedures in all Departments, their Agencies, NDPBs and public corporations.

    Other members of the Board include the Treasury Officer of Accounts, 2 external experts without a specific sectoral interest and the Director of Central Procurement Directorate (CPD). A representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Strategic Investment Board Ltd attend as observers.”

    Quite a few characters from PB have featured in the NIW fiasco but have this fiasco and others been a prominent feature of their minutes? Perhaps the DUP can’t flail about too much without ruining the MoP.

  • Quote from PB’s 2008-9 Annual Report:

    “During 2008-2009, NI Water began implementation of Oracle iProcurement which will improve the ability to conduct spend analysis by category. It will form a key input in optimising the VfM from new contracts and enable NI Water to introduce a range of metrics to assist in driving value from its expenditure with suppliers and to achieve compliance with purchasing policy. It will also encourage the use of contracts rather than quotations, thereby
    reducing supplier/product risk and realising the VfM that negotiated contracts provide.”

    Oracle 🙂

  • Mike Scott

    “Meanwhile, UTV’s Jamie Delargy reports that Northern Ireland Electricity has also been guilty of not putting out some contracts to competitive tendering.

    Isn’t NIE private though ? In which case this a matter of concern only to shareholders.”

    Depends who was putting out the contracts Comrade, wasn’t McKenzie a big cheese round those parts? Did anyone close to him benefit from those tenders?

  • “Public Accounts Committee recalled today to discuss the issues arising from the evidence session on 1st July – what next for NIWater?” … Dawn Purvis on twitter

  • wild turkey

    WM

    yeah, my thoughts exactly.

    over the next week, column inches in the MSM and miles of comments on slugger re the Claudy report will bury the NIW/DRD saga

  • Cynic

    I wasnt making a party political point. I don’t care whose fault it was – it was all a shambles

  • Cynic
  • Maybe too many governance bodies, Cynic, with one lot thinking the other lot are doing the work. Possibly also quite a bit of ‘pushing back’ – as Priestly phrased it – as each of the little empires sought to do their own thing. How do you bring order to much a multi-headed monster?

  • Mick

    Good question Mike. The PAC was also reading in new evidence which should make meeting the minister all the more interesting.

    Not sure McKenzie will want to bat in front of the PAC again without his partnership with Priestly intact.

  • Benjamin

    Do we know when today’s PAC meeting will be made public?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Agreed.

  • Pigeon Toes

    To Cynic at 10.15 am

  • jo

    Anyone know if the email seen by the BBC and transcribed on their website has been scanned and is publicly available?

  • Pigeon Toes

    From PAC 01/07/10

    Ms Purvis:Were there any procurement failures when you were the head of Northern Ireland Electricity?

    Mr MacKenzie:Not that I recall.

  • Pigeon Toes

    From PAC 01/07/10

    Ms Purvis:Were there any procurement failures when you were the head of Northern Ireland Electricity?

    Mr MacKenzie:Not that I recall.

    (Sorry posted in wrong place earlier)

  • William Markfelt

    I wonder if Jamie Delargy is pursuing a specific line of inquiry on this one?

    There must be SOME connection between NIE and NIW that led him to link procurement activities in the two companies. I’ll get back to you on this one the instant I can hazard a guess as to what the link might be.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘How do you bring order to much a multi-headed monster?’

    A Herculean task. In the end, you smash its head between two rocks rather than cut them off. Otherwise it’s business as usual.

  • PAC July 1 report still AWOL but it is available on Scribd for those who wish to check the public record.

  • William Markfelt

    The NIAO ‘Code of Conduct’ also appears to have been hastily removed.

    Or perhaps it’s a case of them never having had one worthy of the name.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Indeed they have been busy little bodies this week over at DRD.
    Seems there wasn’t much business going on all summer, as most minutes weren’t published, until yesterday.

    Oh and they have a new staff structure published , to include the perm sec replacement.
    http://www.drdni.gov.uk/drd_senior_staff_structure_master_version_19_august_2010.pdf

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://applications.drdni.gov.uk/publications/document.asp?docid=19228

    “I have also appeared twice recently before the Public Accounts Committee – firstly, at a hearing on 24 June about the performance of NI Water, where I defended the company’s track record in driving improvements in water and sewerage services; and secondly, at a hearing on 1 July about procurement governance failures in NI Water, where I said they were ‘shocking and indefensible’. This hearing was very tough – and rightly so! It reinforced the message that we are dealing with public money and are responsible for ensuring that it is spent properly and that we achieve good value for money. I want everyone in DRD who is involved in budget planning and management, or the acquisition and delivery of services, to remind themselves of these responsibilities and to raise any concerns they have with their managers.”