School safety fears high­light Ire­land’s dis­mal record on ma­jor con­tracts

The Sligo Champion - - OPINION -

The c ur­rent de­ba­cle sur­round­ing the con­struc­tion of 40 schools that, it ap­pears, may not be safe is just the lat­est in a long list of episodes that high­light the State’s ut­ter i nep­ti­tude when i t comes to pro­cure­ment. The school safety is­sue – which has, so far, seen three newly built schools forced to close – also shines a light on some of the frankly lu­di­crous plan­ning ‘reg­u­la­tions’ that were in place dur­ing the boom years.

While it bizarre it is, sadly, not sur­pris­ing to find out that when many of these schools were built it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the builders – not an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor or in­spec­tor – to sign off on the projects.

That, thank­fully, has been reme­died since 2014 but one won­ders how many other po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous prop­er­ties – of all sorts – there are around the coun­try which were “signed off ” on with­out ever be­ing in­spected by any­one other than their builders.

What has unfolded over the last week would also ap­pear to be symp­to­matic of the ma­jor is­sue that lies at the heart of Ire­land’s pro­cure­ment process.

Un­der State rules on ten­der­ing the most ba­sic tenet of the reg­u­la­tion is that the con­tract for any given project – be it houses and schools or roads and in­fra­struc­ture – must be awarded to the low­est vi­able bid­der.

That would ap­pear well and good but put it in the con­text of build­ing your own house.

Imag­ine two builders who of­fer dif­fer­ent prices. One is far cheaper but you are aware that his projects tend to go over bud­get and are of a con­sid­er­ably lower qual­ity.

The other is more ex­pen­sive but you can be sure the work will be of a high qual­ity, will be com­pleted on time and will last. Which one would you chose?

In the State’s case it is the cheaper in­fe­rior provider that will most likely win the con­tract. The de­ci­sion based al­most en­tirely on cost rather than qual­ity or ac­tual value for money.

When it comes to qual­ity ev­ery­one knows you get what you pay for. Short term sav­ings will help bal­ance a bud­get in the short term but over a decade or more they are usu­ally shown to be a false economies that of­ten end up cost­ing the tax­payer far more in the long run.

There are count­less ex­am­ples of this all over the coun­try from ma­jor roads that end up cost­ing dou­ble the orig­i­nal price to the farce of the HSE’s planned PPARS com­put­erised pay­roll sys­tem. Re­mem­ber PPARS?

The sys­tem – which was sup­posed to cost €9 mil­lion – was an­nounced in the late 1990s. In 2005 its full roll out was paused, af­ter a raft of con­tro­ver­sies. By that stage it had al­ready cost a whop­ping €220 mil­lion.

Then there was Char­lie Mc­Creevys failed €900 mil­lion de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan. Or what about the €329 mil­lion Luas project that ended up cost­ing €778 mil­lion for two lines that didn’t even con­nect. An­other €368 mil­lion has since been spent link­ing the two lines. Can you see a pat­tern here?

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