Senator Higgins’s “game changing” bill on public procurement passes second stage in Seanad.

Senator Higgins Speaking in the Seanad on Public Procurement
Senator Higgins Speaking in the Seanad on Public Procurement

Speaking on the 'Contract Preparation & Criteria Bill', which successfully passed sec-ond stage in the Seanad today with the government abstaining and all other parties supporting, Senator Higgins said, “Procurement is an issue which impacts everyone, from the most intimate areas of our lives to the largest infrastructure.  I believe this bill can be a game-changer for the cul-ture around how we deliver public procurement in Ireland”

A number of recent scandals have highlighted the need for reform of the procurement process from Cervical Check, which was a lowest cost contract, to the closure of schools due to poor building standards. However, Senator Higgins noted that, 

"This is not simply a response to the many problems in procurement, it is also about the positive potential. Ireland spends 50 to 60 billion each year on procurement. When we design or sign contracts on behalf of the Irish people, we need to be sure they are delivering the greatest possible public benefit. That means thinking about quality, from materials and track record to social and environmental factors." 

"EU Directives in this area give a lot of scope which has been underused in Ireland. They give contracting authorities a choice between a balance of price and quality or an approach based on 'lowest price only'. Too often, the automatic awarding of contracts to the lowest bidder has favoured those who cut corners, leading to greater long-term costs for the citizen. I believe my bill can make 'lowest cost only' the exception rather than the rule.”

The bill would make price:quality ratio; the default, requiring all companies bidding for public contracts to compete on quality as well as price. Public authorities could still opt for a lowest price only approach but that would requires sign off at senior level and a public explanation. Senator Higgins summarised it as, “Either think about quality, or think about why you’re not thinking about quality.”

She noted that this doesn't have to cost more, "In the Netherlands where a similar ap-proach has been used 73% of contracts still go to the lowest bidder, but those bidders have also proven themselves on quality and researchers have found that the public benefit doubled. This approach rewards those companies, often SMEs, who have de-cent track records and higher standards "

She continued, "In terms of the National Development Plan, these are once-in-a-lifetime projects and we cannot afford to get them wrong. That is why my bill also proposes a minimum of 50% quality criteria for NDP projects."

Concluding Senator Higgins said, “This bill seeks to restore trust procurement process by making sure things are done in a thoughtful and transparent way from the begin-ning. It is, I believe, an empowering piece of legislation which allows us to do more, bet-ter. I look forward to continuing to work with all parties to develop this conversation further".

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Notes:

Public Authorities and Utility Undertakings (Contract Preparation and Award Criteria) Bill 2019: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/b...

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