…Red Sky in the morning (press), DUP’s warning?

The fallout continues from the DUP Social Development Minister’s decision to request the Housing Executive reinstate and extend the multi-million pound contract for the East Belfast based Red Sky company  following clear evidence of overcharging and poor workmanship after earlier investigations, a decision labelled ‘incomprehensible’ by a leaked Housing Executive memo. The SDLP Minister formerly in charge of the Department, Alex Attwood, had previously terminated the contract following a two-year long investigation. 

Jim Allister has asked for the DUP Minister, Nelson McCausland, to spell out any links between the DUP and the owner of Red Sky.

I suggest he [Nelson McCausland] starts by spelling out any history of involvement between his party and the principal of Red Sky…How many senior DUP personnel, including Ministers, have attended private dinner parties in the home of the owner of Red Sky?

A Housing Executive memo leaked to the BBC commented on meetings alleged to have taken place between the Minister, Peter Robinson and other DUP elected representatives with the former senior management of Red Sky, asking whether ” these meetings constitute canvassing and lobbying for government contracts.”

McCausland has claimed that he wants a new tendering process put in place and that Red Sky should continue to hold the contract until that process is completed.

The issue is due to be discussed during Thursday’s Executive meeting…..space worth watching……

  • ulsterobserver

    Jim Allister has a very valid point so lets hope Nelson spells out his history if any with owner of Red Sky !

  • lamhdearg

    chris,
    if red sky lose the contract it will (in the main) go to *(is that aicth)a** *. will that sit better with alex,

  • Mark McGregor

    Who are the current and former owners of Red Sky? Easy question that costs a registration fee to find out – I’m sure some Slugger reader will already have access to such information.

  • Mick Fealty

    Methinks we are being hurried to yet another premature conclusion on this story.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mick
    I seem to recall similar calls of ‘nothing to see here, move along’ just before the Irisgate affair blew……;>

  • lamhdearg

    Who are the former/no todays employees of red sky. some prods from east belfast and many people from outside ulster, all trying to make a living. Complaint started in west belfast. alex picked it up. The H.E. has been doing this bad work (and no work) for years, only now has it took a sectarian turn (only joking). it was set up to redress the anti cath thinking of the old system, and boy did it flip flop.

  • Mark McGregor

    lamhdearg,

    The closest to a substantive suggestion of bias has come from Jim Allister. That’s why names of the Directors of this company in all it’s guises since Image Investments and recent suggestions of Administration would be interesting.

  • lamhdearg

    mark
    jim dislikes the dup.

  • Mark McGregor

    lamhdearg,

    I’m well aware of Jim’s dislikes, however he is a QC with a forensic mind unlikely to leave himself open to legal challenge.

    I’m sure he asked the following questions knowing most of the answers:

    I have reason to believe that for reasons which need to be fully explored and explained there may have been substantial and highly influential political lobbying of NIHE on behalf of Redsky. Coming after other damaging revelations about links between some politicians and business figures, any political nexus in this case needs to be explored.

    and

    How many senior DUP personnel, including Ministers, have attended private dinner parties in the home of the owner of Red Sky?

  • Mick Fealty

    Chris,

    I think the Coulson story is more apt, two years ago it was a Labour party obsession. But all the Minister has done is say he wants to look at the NIHE.

    My understanding is that the contract has not been reinstated. I wonder why the NIHE is so anti an investigation of their end of the matter?

  • Comrade Stalin

    lamhdearg, there doesn’t have to be a sectarian angle here. Housing Executive staffers are none too pleased about these things being contracted out – and its card has been marked for some time. It’s very interesting that this scandal (and a couple of the other scandals around housing associations) have shown up at around the same time. These are all things which intentionally otherwise serve to make the case against such outsourcing.

  • lamhdearg

    Mark
    Jims a star, however i think his forensic mind may have had stiffin the dup,atop of everything else. Now how about the H.E. doing shit work for years and the complaint emanating in west belfast (red sky a east belfast based company) parts of my post. Not to mention who the other main company, to get the work owners are, ps good luck to them all as they all buy from my firm and keep me in a job.

  • An earlier sceptical look at the Red Sky affair.

  • Mark McGregor

    lamhdearg,

    Seems there’s a sectarian defence of a company ripping off the tax-payer being pitched on several fronts.

    Good luck with that seeming anything other than sectarian defence of the tax payer being ripped off.

  • HeinzGuderian

    One wonders if the shinners will call for resignations,(if it comes to that)just like they did over the water fiasco ? 😉

  • nightrider

    Jimbo is rapidly becoming a star among people who have no truck with his past. If he sticks to chiselling away at the gravy train tracks he could find himself quite the ‘quare fella’.
    Hopefully he’ll get on to various other outsourced agencies where the NICS offloaded the work but not the staff. HR Connect would be a good start.

  • DC

    Let this be a lesson to NI Executive on procurement.

    One big contract to one big company is not good for effectiveness or efficiency. The private company just becomes as monolithic and bloated as those old public companies used to be when the state did the providing of services.

    It’s all about competition – the Housing Executive should be tendering for a couple of companies and playing them off against one another – perhaps offering a carrot of a long term contract once these companies prove themselves.

  • DC

    Also whenever the minister went to cut the contract there was no other company in the wings that could takeover the jobs needing done, a shambles ensued whenever Red Sky workers went out on strike and took their vans up to – was it Stormont – in protest?

  • lamhdearg

    Comrade
    there doesn’t, there shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean there is’nt. As for outsourcing, the brown and yellow vans of the H.E. where just as good at breaking things.

    Mark, they are all ripping the tax payer’s off, but only the west belfast complaint against the east belfast company (backed by s.f. s.d.l.p.) was listened to by the H.E.. i complained lots of times about H.E. work in the past, no one lost their jobs over it.

  • lamhdearg

    Nevin
    just got around to reading your link, thank you, i dont know who writes it , but i am glad that my view on this matter is not just my view.

  • Comrade Stalin

    lamhdearg,

    I’d say pretty much everyone is blowing smoke on this given that none of us have seen the report that led to Attwood making that decision in the first place. Either way, a Minister can’t just decide on a whim to terminate a contract like that. Given the reaction of the Housing Executive it seems a lot more likely that they pushed for it.

    The whole point of outsourcing and contracts like this is exactly so that they are clear that they can be axed if they don’t deliver. You can’t axe an internal department within a state body quite so easily.

  • backstage

    I wondered how long it would take this minister to interfere (sorry…I mean intervene) in his new post. He has quite a track record of inappropriate intervention and faulty judgement. NI Water is criticised for poor governance, OFMDFM (or DFP..can’t remember which) is criticised for poor procurement practices. NIE makes an attempt to get it right and all of a sudden the minister wants to change the rules. Hmmm….

  • backstage

    oops…not NIE…HE.

  • Mark McGregor

    Persons in Belfast with a declared religion ran at circa 42% for both Protestant and Catholic at the last census – an equal return.

    Red Sky, providing services to Housing Executive tenants across the entire city (with questions on DUP links raised by Jim Allister TUV), in their last Equality Commission return (2009) disclosed their workforces was 71% Protestant.

    Some note complaints on poor service from Housing Exec contractors occur disproportionally in Catholic areas. Any thoughts on why that complaint disparity exists?

  • Mark McGregor

    J3,

    Thanks. That explains quite a lot.

  • lamhdearg

    mark
    prods do not complain enough?.

    71% protestant, i will presume non british nats do not get counted, as far as i can see (on my many trips to red sky) polish and other eastern euro people make up more than 30% of red skys (out on the ground)workforce.

    Comrade,
    “I’d say pretty much everyone is blowing smoke on this given that none of us have seen the report that led to Attwood making that decision in the first place”
    i am just reading between the lines.

  • Lionel Hutz

    We dont even have the lines to read between to be fair.

  • lamhdearg

    Mark
    do you care to provide us with the religious breakdown of the other companys doing work for the H.E.. or say the big companys who got contracts when conor was over seeing thing in regioinal.

  • lamhdearg

    bitter?
    i dont want the workers of red sky to lose there jobs, if that makes me bitter, then i am bitter.

  • Mark McGregor

    Lamhdearg,

    Conor?

    You can’t even do your whataboutery with a tiny bit of being informed?

    It was Atwood that kicked the ultra-prod (we can call a 70%+ Protestant Co. in Belfast ultra-Prod?) Red-Sky to touch over fraud and procurement issues.

  • lamhdearg

    regional. Mark please read to the end. Off to bed now, with bonfire night coming up this bitter prod, needs his sleep.

  • dajungleman

    We want answers Mr. McCausland! Ulster Scots will suffice…!

    I have direct involvement with both NIHE and Redsky and the sooner this sh1tstorm is sorted the better.

  • nightrider

    Why don’t the HE (which has localised areas) just contract out in those local areas? Price and workmanship can be overseen on a regular basis. Once competency is cemented, an annual contract.
    The building and construction industries are in a recession. But a recession after years of milking the cash cow.
    Cheaper social housing and maintenance needed. And quality. Local or Polish, the market wil decide.

  • lamhdearg

    i think the fact that some folk on slugger can remove comments, and leave the respondent looking like they are a loon talking to themselves is a fault. for those reading through this post for the first time, i was described as a bitter july, prod, or bigot, or something like that.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Must say, so far Jim is giving me an excellent return on the vote I gave him.

    The best thing is, I think he’s only getting started!

  • Reader

    Mark McGregor: Red Sky, providing services to Housing Executive tenants across the entire city (with questions on DUP links raised by Jim Allister TUV), in their last Equality Commission return (2009) disclosed their workforces was 71% Protestant.
    I live in Bangor and work in Belfast. Is that wrong? Would it be wrong if I worked for Red Sky? What is the religious balance within the Belfast commuter belt?

  • Reader

    Mark McGregor: Some note complaints on poor service from Housing Exec contractors occur disproportionally in Catholic areas. Any thoughts on why that complaint disparity exists?
    Three thoughts:
    Bigotry by the workers.
    Bigotry by the complainants.
    A politically manipulated culture of Mopery by the complainants.
    Go on then – how many thoughts had occurred to you?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think (hope?) Mark’s point was that the same facts can be used to interpret a sectarian bias in either direction.

  • Conor Murphy and the folks in DRD and NIW must be wondering why the PAC, the MSM and bloggers weren’t giving DSD Ministers, DSD and NIHE the same exposure that they received.

  • Mick Fealty

    Oh they were Nevin no doubt. Except when I asked Paul (I think it was Paul) Maskey for access to some of the documentation he was offering all and sundry on Twitter, I got no response. Strange that.

  • Mick Fealty

    On a slightly longer note, I am going to look into some of the lines of inquiry suggested here, but I am a little more sceptical about this story than some of you. That scepticism partly arises from my experience of the NIW story.

    In a word: it’s procurement, stoopid!

    Here’s the Minister:

    “…investigations into activities of Housing Executive staff, which are ongoing, have led to disciplinary action being taken, including dismissal, suspension and demotion,” he added, stating that he had asked NIHE to suspend any action to re-assign current contracts until a detailed investigation is carried out in relation to all contracts.

    “I need to know how far these failings go, both within the Housing Executive and amongst appointed contractors.”

    Here’s my problem with the spin that’s driving much of the frenzy here: we have seen it before, when certain Mr Priestly pushed his so-called Independent Review Team to come to conclusions (see the timeline for Jan/Feb) long before the detailed research was complete.

    Last October, according to Alex Attwood and Paul Maskey, the NIHE was ‘out of control’. On foot of that the Minister launched a review of governance. But when and how was it retrieved from the dogs?

    Now the new Minister has announced a very specific review of procurement and management of contractors and everyone is going into meltdown (including NIHE).

    I would say something fishy is going on here. But I want to see a *lot* more detail before I decide what it is!

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    RS are not on death row because of the sectarian makeup of their workforce, they are there because, according to the department, they have been billing for work they did not do!

  • “billing for work they did not do!”

    That should be a simple enough issue to resolve yet it can be more complex than one might imagine. How is protection racket money accommodated in accounts? What about the alleged practice by some local authorities of paying out money from this year’s unspent budget to contractors for projects they may or may not proceed with in the following financial year? Also what about the problem of architects and quantity surveyors over-specifying a public project and naming the suppliers that are to be used? In the latter case the taxpayer may be coughing up £100 per item when a contractor can provide a perfectly adequate solution for £8 per item.

    NIAO report: The Investigation of Suspected Contract Fraud. Sadly, NIAO sometimes appears to act more as an arm of government than as a protector of the public interest so it’s reports need to be read with that caveat in mind.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “How is protection racket money accommodated in accounts? What about the alleged practice by some local authorities of paying out money from this year’s unspent budget to contractors for projects they may or may not proceed with in the following financial year”

    Nevin.
    Just for the record if officials suggested that to ANY innocent contractor/work person how would that be the contractor’s fault?.
    Say some civil servant said oh on 15th March “Can you submit you invoice for that now, to keep our paperwork right?”

    Are you suggesting that the said work-person needs to be more aware of the rules and procedures than the authorities who contract them?

  • Lionel Hutz

    The Irish News today contains a press release from the DUP on this Red Sky Issue:

    “There is no relationship beyond the fact that this is a large employer in a constituency that is represented by the DUP and the party is only concerned about it’s constituents

    How does that sit with public procurement principles. That’s political lobbying surely

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, it is a party statement.

    Seriously we should ask which companies were being lined up to take over the contract, what procurement processes had been put in place after Alex’s review, and whether they significantly differed from those in place at the time when RS were originally given theirs.

    I think we need higher standards of proof on both sides of this argument.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I definately agree we should all be cautious which is why some of the comments above surprise me.

    It might also be presumptuous to say that there was something wrong with the procurement processes themselves. I mean the problems highlighted with Red Sky would not seem to me to be the type of issues that would become apparent during the process for awarding the contracts.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Ps. I’m not saying that you are presuming that such problems exist but others seem to be.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, I’m not arguing that point. I don’t believe the sectarian argument. it sounds to me very much as if the Housing Executive initiated the move to get the contract terminated, and Attwood simply rubber-stamped it, although one does not get the impression that the proposal to terminate was sitting on his Ministerial desk for long.

    I’m saying that in this situation (and a whole bunch of others) the limited factoids can be used to justify any of the sectarian arguments someone might choose to make. It’s an example of how people’s tribal attitudes are easily reaffirmed. The theory being proferred that Attwood’s action must have been sectarian because he’s a fenian and the prods would be the ones who would suffer doesn’t need a lot to back it up – and it’s a gallery the DUP seem to be happy to play to at the moment, although God knows you’d have thought they would have learned to be more careful about mixing up government with business relationships.

    Robin Newton’s argument doesn’t seem to be that well thought out. As Lionel says, the idea seems to be that suppliers who engage in what are serious contractual breaches (according to the HE) need to be protected from punishment due to the jobs that will be lost is nuts, it completely overturns the whole notion of transparency and accountability in procurement decisions. It’s not too dissimilar to the argument that was used to justify keeping the loss-making, inefficient and generally crap post-war H&W shipyard in operation via state subsidy for so long.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I mean the problems highlighted with Red Sky would not seem to me to be the type of issues that would become apparent during the process for awarding the contracts.

    Perhaps by “procurement” the department is referring the processes whereby the HE puts submits work orders to them, and they submit invoices for payment. For larger bits of work its probably done job by job rather than a big bill every quarter.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I see what you mean, I think. It would be interesting to see exactly how all of that works. My impression had been that a company like Red Sky got a contract to do all repair work for the HE in a particular area(s) for a number of months or years on a rolling basis. Also, Red Sky are only under contract until July 14. I wonder if it is even correct to say that the HE decided to terminate the contract. It seems to me that I’m fact HE have decided not to award a new contract.

    I thought the DUP press release was astonishing. Not so much because of it’s content- which I’m sure many believe is simply a statement of fact – but because they actually said it. It seems to contradict the Ministers line that he needs to look at all providers and only wants Red Sky to continue in the interim.

  • Lionel Hutz

    It undermines the parties bona fides completely. If the “only” concern is for employment of the good people of East Belfast, then surely the DUP want the contract to continue indefinitely/into the future/ going forward (insert politikspeak here)

  • babyface finlayson

    Mark
    I have no idea if it is helpful or not but the current listed directors of Red Sky are Norman Hayes and Peter Cooke. Dudley Moore may be a silent partner, I can’t be sure. This information is in the public domain.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Lionel,

    Speculating here, but Red Sky are probably not on a fixed price contract as there is no way for either the HE or them to manage the risk. Chances are there’s a framework contract (which would set things like hourly rates, mileage, expenses etc), and then each time there is a job, Red Sky get work orders and submit invoices. That way Nelson’s allegations that there are things being double charged would make sense. If a tenant needs a tap changed, nothing stops you submitting a bill for changing two – unless someone checks.

    Yeah it’s possible they have decided not to renew. Alternatively, of course, the July 14th date could simply be the earliest date allowing for whatever notice period is in the contract.

    Agreed, I don’t think Newton’s press release was a smart move at all. I’m sure it would constitute evidence if there was ever a judicial review, something which could cause real problems for the minister. I can see why this has happened though. For the DUP this is the equivalent of the A5 for SF – they’re playing to a constituency gallery rather than taking the job of governance seriously. Martin McGuinness made a comment in the assembly a month or so back saying that the A5 expansion was unstoppable, and practically in the same breath said that he would be awaiting the outcome of the DRD minister’s enquiry into it. This is the danger of electing constituency workers to be legislators/administrators, rather than the other way around.

  • lamhdearg

    Three other companies took over the Red Sky contract on Thursday morning. They will fill in until the end of the contract at the end of the year.They are: H&A Mechanical Services; PK Murphy Construction and Whitehorse Facilities Management,
    Mark,
    Now that the names of the companys has been released would you (or anyone else) like to run a religious breakdown on these companys, or tell us who their owners are and with whom they may have wined and dined?, you could start with the company that has got the lions share and come’s first on the list H&A, i will check back latter to see how that pans out.

  • Pigeon Toes

    According to Companies House Whitehorse Facilities Management Ltd was dissolved on 15/07/11.

  • chewnicked

    w

  • Drumlins Rock

    “Established in 1993 by Hugh & Anne McWilliams, H&A Mechanical Services Ltd has gone from strength to strength, firmly establishing itself as Northern Ireland’s leading provider of heating installations.”

    from their website, they previously won the tender for the Warm Homes scheme. Address is shown as somewhere in the wilds of Draperstown.

  • lamhdearg

    H&A address, five mile straight monnyneany, a handy 1 hour drive from belfast for their vans, however they opened large new premises at mallusk a while ago, they must have had reason to believe there would be a large contract to be had in the belfast area. i wonder now many of the 450+ red sky workers will be joining H&A, last week we where told that over half of red skys workers would transfer to the companys that got the contracts, todays bbc report says around 100 to transfer. the rest?.