School safety fears highlight Ireland’s dismal record on major contracts
The current 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 ineptitude when it 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.
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?