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Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 25 February 2009

COMMITTEE FOR FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

OFFICIAL REPORT
(Hansard)

Evaluation of Workplace 2010 Options

25 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson) 
Mr Simon Hamilton (Deputy Chairperson) 
Dr Stephen Farry 
Ms Jennifer McCann 
Mr David McNarry 
Mr Declan O’Loan 
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Mr Michael Donnelly ) 
Mr Philip Irwin ) Department of Finance and Personnel 
Mr Leo O’Reilly )

The Chairperson (Mr McLaughlin):

We are joined by Leo O’Reilly, permanent secretary; Philip Irwin, head of properties division, and Michael Donnelly, strategic advisor for the Workplace 2010 programme. Gentlemen, you are very welcome. I remind everyone that the session is being reported by Hansard and that mobile phones should be turned off completely as they interfere with the recording equipment.

Leo, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Leo O’Reilly (Department of Finance and Personnel):

Thank you. The Committee will have received the short briefing paper that was prepared by Norman Irwin on 20 February. I do not need to go through that paper: it is succinct and covers the key points on the current position of the procurement aspect of the Workplace 2010 project.

I will highlight two points before taking questions from members. This is about the procurement aspect of Workplace 2010. As members are aware, Workplace 2010 is a long-term programme that has been designed to transform the way in which accommodation for the Civil Service in Northern Ireland is provided. It is not unique within the UK; there are extensive similar office refurbishment and redesign programmes in place in Whitehall and more widely.

The driver behind this is twofold: first, there is the desire to seek to secure more economic use of office space than we have at the moment, and secondly, we need to provide more efficient office accommodation — relevant to the type of working environment that people have today — with a high emphasis on the use of technology and so on.

As the Committee will be aware, having been briefed about the issue on several occasions, a property PFI programme was in place. The process has been ongoing over a number of years, as colleagues will be able to describe, and we had reached the stage of having two best-and-final-offer (BAFO) bidders. The various issues that arose with those bidders during 2008 have been discussed with the Committee previously. However, in November 2008, the Department was informed by the bidders that they were in exclusive discussions with each other about merging. At that point, because of the potential implications of the merger for the procurement, the process was suspended, and that suspension was announced by the Minister and discussed with the Committee.

Members may recall that it was also discussed at the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee that I attended shortly after the announcement. During the period of suspension, there was no further discussion of the bids, as such, since the procurement was suspended with the agreement of the two bidders.

On 8 January 2009, Land Securities Group and Telereal announced that they had reached agreement on the sale of Land Securities Trillium (LST) to Telereal.

It had been announced in November 2008 that the Department would reach the conclusion of the procurement process very early in 2009, depending on the outcome of the discussions between the two bidders. When the outcome of those discussions was announced, we entered into further discussions with the bidders about the implications for the procurement: not just from the merger of the two companies, but more importantly perhaps, the difficulty that the companies would have in securing debt financing in the present state of the international financial markets in order to finance a project such as this.

Primarily because of those difficulties, the two bidders wrote to the Department to confirm that they were formally withdrawing their bids. That effectively ended the procurement process, as the Department announced in its press release on 20 February.

The procurement aspect of the Workplace 2010 office refurbishment programme has come to an end. As we have outlined briefly in our paper, we are now considering how to take forward that programme of work and the different procurement options for doing so. That is in its relatively early stages, and we will need to do a lot more work on that, and carefully consider the options over the coming weeks and months.

Mr Hamilton:

We are all frustrated at what has happened, and I am sure that you, your colleagues and the Department share in that frustration. Personally speaking, I believe that suspending and abandoning the process was the only option available under the circumstances — indeed, it was a set of circumstances that was largely beyond the control of the Department.

Your paper lists four options, and, for various reasons, three of them are ruled out. I have several questions about that. The fourth option; developing a package of work for the two- to six-year planning horizon is the early front runner and favoured option. How was that evaluated against the other options?

Mr Philip Irwin (Department of Finance and Personnel):

That section in our paper looks at the long term position. There are short-term strands of work that we have begun already. Where we can do so, we have taken some of the early moves and early refurbishment programmes and started implementing those in the conventional manner. We would also like to examine the possibility of looking at the soft-FM services as a stand-alone contract for the NICS, because based on the information that we have in the bids, it looks like there is the potential for significant saving to be made in that area.

As regards the bigger issues, which are the later phases in the programme, those are larger and harder to break down into smaller bits that we could, potentially, fund within existing budgets. We have identified four options; and, at this early stage, we see the fourth option as the most likely route. As Leo said, a lot of work will have to be done to assess the options and determine the preferred solution.

Mr Hamilton:

Your paper mentions a two- to six-year planning horizon. Does that mean that nothing is being done for the next two years?

Mr P Irwin:

No. The paper looks at conventionally-funded phases of work that we will implement in the first two years. We are getting on with the bits of the programme that we can fund conventionally and we will use the two-year window to identify how best to implement the bigger chunks of work that will come later in the programme.

Mr Hamilton:

Are you also saying that that principle of having private-sector involvement in the delivery of elements of what would have been the Workplace 2010 contract is still in place and may guide some of the smaller elements of what would have been in the contract?

Mr P Irwin:

Absolutely. That is still an option that needs to be examined regarding the larger elements in the two- to six-year planning horizon. However, the context that we set all of that in, given the current circumstances, is that we are not seeking to transfer title or sell the majority of the estate. We will look at options to retain the title of the buildings that we intend to occupy in the medium-to-long term and simply seek to sell what becomes surplus as part of the transformation programme.

Mr Hamilton:

Have you looked at those surplus assets? Have you a fair idea of what those might be at this stage?

Mr P Irwin:

Yes. We have gone back to the plan that was developed as part of the PFI procurement. In the main, that plan stands; the buildings that would have become surplus as part of that programme, had it been implemented, will probably still be the buildings and land that will, potentially, become surplus in a future procurement.

Mr Hamilton:

Finally; what is deemed to be a “strategic partnership” as mentioned in the paper? Is it something that could develop into a PFI or PPP? Are we looking at this from a position two years onwards? Is it a matter of taking into account the fact that there are difficulties getting private finance for schemes of this nature now and that maybe in two years’ time those difficulties may have settled?

Indeed, it would be good to hear from someone who could tell us that that will be the case within two years?

Mr P Irwin:

In layman’s terms, the strategic partnership would be an umbrella relationship with a private-sector company under which there would be an opportunity to let further contracts as they arise. Contracts would be funded in a variety of ways, potentially through conventional capital funding or through private-sector initiatives — PFI-style deals such as the one that we considered.

Mr Hamilton:

You are almost talking about delivery of the same objectives. Everything that was hoped to be done through Workplace 2010 would be achieved, but, perhaps in a more staggered nature, and with different methods of delivery.

Mr P Irwin:

That is correct. It will probably take longer and be done through a number of different delivery mechanisms.

Mr O’Reilly:

I have two supplementary points to make. Obviously, there is already very extensive involvement with the private sector in the delivery of the office estate, whether it is through the leasing of buildings to provide office accommodation, which we do as well as owning our own buildings, or through the use of private-sector contractors to refurbish them. We also use private-sector contractors to provide hard services— the physical maintenance of buildings, including those that we own.

A second point that illustrates the fact that the Department is continuing with the programme is that over the next few weeks, DCAL will be moving from its present location into a new city-centre location in the Causeway Exchange, which has been provided and furbished on the basis of the Workplace 2010 principles. Further moves are planned, including, Mr Irwin’s properties division moving into that type of accommodation over the coming months.

Mr Hamilton:

You are practising what you preach, then.

Ms J McCann:

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Even before the current economic climate, concerns were raised that the way in which Workplace 2010 was being brought forward — through PFI —did not represent value for money. The Committee had raised a number of concerns with the Department. Have those concerns been factored into assessments of the options that the Department is taking forward, one of which appears to be favoured?

At the time, the Bain Report on the relocation of public sector jobs was awaited. I know that you have said that DCAL will be moving to the Causeway Exchange, but do those new options also factor in Bain’s recommendations for the relocation of public-sector jobs?

Mr O’Reilly:

Philip and Michael will reply on the value-for-money point; however, a fundamental requirement for any procurement is that we are able to demonstrate value for money before it is concluded.

There was no presumption, at any stage, that any particular outcome from this procurement would demonstrate value for money. That was something that could be tested only when the final bids were received and when the final analysis of the potential costs of those bids were stacked up against each other in a competitive-bidding process; and, importantly when they were stacked against what we sometimes refer to as a public-sector comparator, which is an estimate of the costs of providing similar, or the same, services through conventional procurement means. Therefore, as is the case in every procurement, this one was predicated on its demonstrating value for money. However, the point of testing is reached only when the final bids are received. Michael will provide more detail on the process we went through in assessing value for money.

Sir George Bain has published his report, and it is still to be considered by the Executive. We seek to ensure that the principles of Workplace 2010 are applied in instances in which new or refurbished office accommodation is being provided around the Province. There was no further explicit linkage between the two. As you know, the Bain Report was published towards the end of last year. Therefore it was being factored into the Workplace 2010 deliberations at a relatively late stage.

Mr Michael Donnelly (Department of Finance and Personnel):

The value for money for Workplace 2010 was assessed at the outline-business-case stage of the project, when, as Leo said, we estimated the contract’s procurement costs and compared those with the estimate of what the public sector could deliver it for. That was part of the approval process, whereby DFP Supply granted us approval to proceed at that point.

As part of that approval, we were required to update the value-for-money position when we were ready to announce the preferred bidder. However, we never got to the point of appointing a preferred bidder, because that would have taken place at the end of the BAFO stage, when the procurement was suspended and, subsequently, terminated.

Along the way, particularly at the invitation-to-negotiate (ITN) stage, we tested the bid values that we had received against the budget available so as to assess affordability and to ensure that we were on the right track and stood a good chance of getting an affordable contract.

Mr P Irwin:

We always said that the Workplace 2010 contract would be able to include whatever flexibility was required to be able to cope with the recommendations contained in the Bain Report, and we worked hard to introduce that into the contract. In many ways, the revised proposal of breaking the early phases into smaller pieces and contracting for those individually allows us to deal with the Bain recommendations in a simpler manner, because we do not have to be concerned about the plan for the whole estate but only for the business units or Departments that we are moving in the early phases. To some extent, the flexibility and the complication that the Bain Report introduced into the PFI procurement are not issues for our revised proposal.

Ms J McCann:

You said that the Executive have not made a decision on the Bain Report’s recommendations, but a commitment has been made on the relocation of public-sector jobs, for people who want to move, and the regional disparity associated with that. How will that commitment be factored in?

Mr P Irwin:

The early phases that we have identified as those for which we will contract at the beginning of this revised proposal do not affect any of the units identified by Bain as potential units for relocating: those will be affected by a later part of the proposal. To some extent, the outworkings of Bain can take place in whatever way that they need to over the next number of years, but they will not affect the units for which we are contracting in the short term. Therefore, so long as the political outworkings of Bain have been concluded by the time that we get a bigger piece of this in the later years, there will not be an issue.

The Chairperson:

When will the Bain Report be brought to the Executive? Is there a reason why the Department has not put it before the Executive?

Mr O’Reilly:

The Minister will bring the paper to the Executive. He is considering the responses that he has received from his ministerial colleagues. As you know, he wrote to his colleagues after the Assembly debate on the issue last October. Most, if not all, have responded to him with their views, the implications of which he is considering in order to present a paper to the Executive.

The Chairperson:

It seems to be a no-brainer. The Bain Report came in at the late stages of the original project preparations for Workplace 2010, and we are now into a reassessment of what can be done. There was always a concern about the impact of Workplace 2010 — despite the contractual clauses that were going to be developed to ensure maximum benefit from decentralisation.

In the middle of the chaos, if you like, we now have a new opportunity to do something about that. Surely you should be in a position to indicate when the proposals will go to the Executive? If you do not have the answer today — and I assume that you do not — will you write to the Committee indicating when that will go to the Executive so that we all have a clear idea? It should be demonstrated that this is a joined-up Government and that we are considering all of the options, including the Bain Report.

Mr O’Reilly:

In simple terms, the obvious concern about the interaction between the Bain Report and Workplace 2010 was that the Workplace programme could lock in office accommodation and the distribution of office accommodation, and, thus, make that rigid and inflexible. That would have meant that it would have been very difficult to relocate jobs to towns and cities around the Province.

In a sense, you are right. The problem with Workplace 2010 has gone in the sense that we will be taking the work forward in a more staged basis. There is, by implication, much more flexibility again in relation to the locations where we place jobs and office accommodation.

The Chairperson:

It allows for a strategic, as opposed to a reactive, approach to the Bain Report. That is an opportunity that should be seized.

Mr Weir:

I have a point that arises from that matter, and I will then ask a question. Clearly, some people are critical of the Bain Report. Unless I have picked it up incorrectly, the report is committed to the broad principle of decentralisation, and that there should be fairness in economic spread across Northern Ireland, taking into account value for money. The commitment is on that basis rather than on specific implementation of the report’s recommendations. Is that a reasonable assessment, or have I missed something?

Mr O’Reilly:

The Committee has heard extensive evidence from Sir George Bain, so it will know that it is difficult to take issue with the concept of creating strategic hubs rather than seeking to disperse tiny numbers of jobs, which has been shown to create difficulties. If strategic hubs are created that are within reasonable travelling distances for most people across the Province then sustainable, decentralised jobs will be created as distinct from small pockets of jobs that are not really sustainable.

The principle is very sound. As we have discussed, it is certainly something that we think is compatible with the future approach to the strategic provision of Civil Service office accommodation. The Bain Report has obviously raised some debate at political level, particularly concerning issues around the location of public-service jobs, not just around the Province but in the greater Belfast area. There have been debates as to the potential implications of the report for that issue.

Mr Weir:

To take the Chairman’s point, irrespective of one’s views on the various elements, Workplace 2010 has now effectively been put on ice. That clearly creates a need to assess the situation more strategically.

In your paper, you indicate that experience has reaffirmed the importance of Workplace 2010. Will you clarify that in light of the experiences of the pilot offices that were used? Certain problems arose in those pilot offices: have they been resolved? If so, what lessons have been learned so that they do not recur if the strategy is rolled out at a later stage in a wider context?

Mr O’Reilly:

The Committee will know that extensive evaluation reports were carried out on both pilot projects. Reports have been produced and the results made available to the staff who work at those locations. Philip is closer to the day-to-day issues than me, but the obvious key issues of which I am aware were more prevalent in Clare House.

The principle of working in an open-office environment is very different: it is meant to have advantages, but if people have worked in enclosed environments, there is a simple basic point of adaptation. Secondly, at the more practical but important level for the people who are working in Clare House, there were issues with noise levels in the building. In the early stages, there were also technical problems with the telecommunications and general communications systems. Those also created difficulties in the system.

There have also been difficulties with the amount of car parking provided for staff at that location. Most of the issues that staff have relayed to us concern the practical aspects that affect their day-to-day working lives. However, Philip was closer to the evaluation that was carried out.

Mr P Irwin:

Leo has highlighted a lot of the headline issues, many of which have been resolved or are being resolved. Steps are being taken to improve the car-parking facilities, for example. Another issue, which links back to the Bain Report perhaps, is that a lot of the staff who were moved to Clare House had been based in the city centre. The location was a major issue and caused a lot of underlying discontent in the office. Moving people’s location is a fundamental issue that needs to be factored in when we consider how the outworking of the Bain Report should be implemented.

Mr Weir:

Has any view been formed about the need for flexibility of design? Much seems to have been based on the concept of having open-plan offices. We have heard mixed opinions about that, which indicates that a horses-for-courses approach may be better. In other words, a high level of open-plan style may be suitable for certain Civil Service tasks but other, more specialist, functions may not be well suited to that style — some may require quietness, for example. Has it been accepted that the system needs to be flexible in order to ensure that whatever is put in place is appropriate to the tasks that an office carries out?

Mr P Irwin:

There must be a balance. We can take the example of business units and Departments that are being moved to new accommodation — such as DCAL, which is moving to Causeway Exchange. We have undertaken extensive work with the people involved, and they are moving to an open-plan office that is fully compliant with the Workplace 2010 specification.

Obviously, there are other needs. The general office space of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal is also being fitted out to Workplace 2010 specifications and is open plan. However, the organisation also has specialist accommodation needs, and rooms with suitable noise reduction in which tribunals, and so on, can take place are being provided. There is obviously a requirement for the specialist needs of different Departments to be accommodated.

The other side of the equation is that every time an organisation moves into accommodation that must be tailored to its specific needs, has an associated cost. As with any shared service, the more standardised we can make a building, the easier it will be for staff to be moved in a cost-efficient manner. There is always a trade off to be considered, but we recognise that any move of a Department or business unit must accommodate specialist requirements.

Mr O’Loan:

There is clearly a major problem arising. The central question concerns the extent to which the Department must accept a significant amount of responsibility for the collapse of Workplace 2010, but I have a number of questions to ask.

Your paper lists the total cost of the project as being close to £9 million, and you say that 45% of that is still of value. That means that about £4 million to £5 million has been spent with no return. A figure of £0·96 million is given for “other fees” — will you clarify what those are? Does that figure include settlement on the Partenaire challenge?

Mr O’Reilly:

Before Philip gives a detailed response to the question; I wish to comment on the member’s preliminary remarks regarding the “collapse” of Workplace 2010. I do not think that it is appropriate to describe it as a collapse, as the concept, as I have emphasised, is still in place. The project has encountered significant difficulties, but they arose primarily because of the enormous difficulties now being experienced throughout the world in all types of financing.

In fact, over the past six months, Workplace 2010 is only one of a large number of PFI-type projects that have come to a halt, or been terminated, not only across the UK but internationally. Even yesterday, the papers were reporting extensively on the number of projects that cannot be financed by companies because of the wider problems in the international financial markets. We and the tendering companies encountered those difficulties in dealing with the situation that we faced. Unfortunately, and by any stretch of the imagination, we were not unique, and we sought to manage the problem as openly and transparently as possible over the past year.

Mr P Irwin:

The figure of £0·96 million is classified as being for other professional fees. There is a technical reason for that, in a sense, in relation to the definition of consultancy in our guidance. Other professional fees relate to specific items of work that were undertaken that were deemed not to have involved skills transfer: for instance, building surveys; preparation and submission of planning application for a newbuild at the Stormont site, and so forth. Therefore, although they are separated for a technical reason, from a layman’s point of view, they are part of the procurement costs in the same way as are the other consultancy costs.

Mr O’Loan:

Does that mean that the costs incurred by the Partenaire challenge are over and above the figure of £9 million?

Mr P Irwin:

I think that the Partenaire costs are included in the £9 million, but, to be able to give you an absolute assurance, I will have to come back to you on that.

Mr O’Loan:

Please come back to the Committee with that information.

Your paper states that the project was a victim of the credit crunch, and your remarks today have amplified that. Had you got on with delivering the project more rapidly, surely you would have been much less likely to have been a victim of the credit crunch.

Mr P Irwin:

Members will be aware that we were unable to issue the BAFO documentation until January 2008 primarily because of the Partenaire challenge, which set us back almost a year. The challenge was dealt with in December 2007, and we issued the documentation immediately afterwards, in January 2008.

When it became apparent that the two bidders could potentially become a single entity we accelerated the evaluation process, and it was completed by the end of June 2008. However, at that point neither bid was in position to be acceptable. We were not comfortable with going to the next stage of the process, which would have been to sign a commitment letter and appoint a preferred bidder. Therefore, we entered negotiations to seek to move the positions of the bidders to the point at which their bids would be acceptable and we would be able to sign a commitment letter.

Obviously, throughout that period, the financial crisis and property valuation issue were beginning to impact upon us more and more. If, earlier in the process, we had had an acceptable bid and had been able to appoint the preferred bidder, we would have been in a better situation. However, I am not sure that there was anything that we could have done. We did accelerate the process when it became apparent that speed was important to us. However, at the end of the process, we did not have a bid that was acceptable or that we were in a position to commit to.

Mr O’Reilly:

With regard to the timetable, the programme was initiated in January 2004; however, it was July 2005 before the outline business case was approved by the then Ministers. This has been a very large-scale programme that has involved an enormous amount of work.

Apart from the nine months, or so, delay, caused by the challenge that was referred to, it is important to stress the point that Philip made; we did, wherever possible, seek to accelerate the programme, the project and the procurement process. However, when we concluded that we did not feel comfortable, or were not satisfied that the state of the bids received had the potential to offer full value for money, we postponed, or hesitated, until those matters could be clarified. In a sense, part of our delay — what you might describe as slowness — was fully justified in ensuring that we got a good deal out of the programme that represented value for money.

Mr O’Loan:

You mentioned the link between the companies, and that one company acquired the relevant part of the other. I contend that even if there had not been a credit crunch and the financial difficulties around that, the project was doomed to founder at that point anyway. It was an extremely risky decision to reduce the number of final bidders to two. If you were to say that, given the scale of the project, no more than two bidders would be prepared to invest money in preparing a final bid; I would go as far as to say that that puts a question mark over the whole process. Reducing the number of final bidders to two carried a risk, and that risk eventually transpired. Even if that risk was not there, there are other risks involved in reducing the number of bidders to two. The project carried such a huge level of risk that the process comes severely under question.

Mr O’Reilly:

Given his experience of those projects I will ask Michael to comment more widely; however, to have two BAFO bidders is quite normal. It is important to remember that this has come at the end of a long process, in which, at one stage, six consortia were involved. Those were reduced to four, who were invited to negotiate. A prolonged stage of negotiation with the bidders followed, and then we reached the BAFO stage. It is not unusual for that to involve a relatively small number of bidders, simply because, by that stage, quite a long process and engagement with a much larger number of bidders has taken place.

The whole process of bidding is very expensive for the companies and consortia involved. A balance must be struck between keeping a number of companies in play and the fact that those companies are incurring costs in continuing to pursue the procurement. Inevitably, therefore, some bidders are going to lose the money that they have sunk into the bidding process.

It is history now; however, there have been cases in which there was only one BAFO bidder, and, following a process of descending down to a single BAFO bidder, contracts in GB have been let on that basis. The procurement method used, which is called negotiation procedure, envisages getting to a point at which the procurement authority negotiates terms with a single bidder. That comes at the very end of a long process in which a large number of bidders has eventually been funnelled down, through a competitive process, to a few BAFO bidders.

Mr Donnelly:

I really must emphasise what Leo says. We went through a procedure that was fully compliant with European regulations for negotiated procedure. Indeed, it is the same procedure that was used for some of the precedent deals for Workplace 2010, which were Steps and Prime in the UK.

Furthermore, in the context of bidder activity and their acquisition; in April, we became aware that when LST was considering the sale of its business, Telereal was one of four interested parties at that time. Indeed, for the majority of the summer, Telereal was not in play at all. In August, it formally withdrew its bid for the Trillium business, and only reinstated the bid very late in September when we were some way through the negotiations. Therefore, for a large part of the BAFO evaluation phase, the Telereal bid was off the table, with no prospect having been communicated to us that it would be reinstated.

Mr O’Loan:

What lessons were learned from the process?

Mr O’Reilly:

It is difficult to draw generic lessons from the process, given the particular set of circumstances we encountered — in particular the collapse of the whole PFI financing framework. I suppose that we might have had a different approach had we anticipated that happening. However, I do not think that we are the only people in the world who did not anticipate the current financial difficulties that we are facing.

Mr O’Loan:

That is the most explicit statement that we have had of the collapse, essentially, of the whole PFI process at the present time.

Mr O’Reilly:

I would describe it as being in significant difficulty. [Laughter.]

Mr O’Loan:

Finally, I would like to push you further on something that you said earlier about alternative ways of progressing the matter. When the three-year Budget was created, this way of delivering the modern Civil Service estate was an element of that. It was not provided for in the Budget by any alternative route, so I cannot see that there is any other money in the Budget that will provide for alternatives, unless it is taken from other programmes. You can tell me if I am right about that, but I presume that annual payments were to be made to a contractor during the three-year Budget period, and as those are not going to be made now, presumably, that will free up some money. Other than that, I cannot see that there is any significant money available for alternative routes.

Mr O’Reilly:

Philip, do you wish to say what the projected costs would have been?

Mr P Irwin:

It is correct to say that we are now in a different environment, and that we did not envisage the current situation happening. I have outlined that we have a three-strand approach going forward. We can find money for the first phase from within existing budgets, because the projects are very small and not significant. With regard to the second strand, we have said that we will examine the soft-FM services. On the basis of a top-level analysis of the figures we received as part of the bids for the Workplace 2010 contract, there are savings to be made in that area, which could, potentially, generate revenue as we work through the process, if what we are seeing on the bids is correct.

The third strand is the major element of the construction and refurbishment programme. It is correct to say that we will then have to make a bid, or, as I have outlined, seek private financing under some sort of partnership agreement, in a similar way to the procurement that we had. We would have to bid for that money or seek to fund the work through an alternative mechanism.

The Chairperson:

I just want to follow on from that line of questioning. I presume that local businesses anticipated drawing some work from the Workplace 2010 project, had it gone ahead as planned. Has there been any analysis of the impact on that aspect due to the project not going ahead?

I also want to explore potential positives if the work goes ahead, in some form, on a phased basis? Will it open up opportunities for local businesses? They may have found that the integrated project was too big a bite, but they might be able to bid for smaller contracts. Are you alive to that potential, and can procurement guidelines reflect that, as regards supply, management, and taking on some elements of Workplace 2010 on a smaller, desegregated and phased basis?

Mr P Irwin:

If we look at the matter in a Northern Ireland context, all the construction work, under either bid, was essentially being done by local companies.

The Chairperson:

It was subcontracted.

Mr Irwin:

It was subcontracted within the bigger umbrella. Fundamentally, local companies were doing the work at the coalface. The difference will be that if we let the project in a different way, over a longer period of time and through different contractual mechanisms, other companies that were not involved in the two bids will, potentially, have an opportunity to access some of the work. However, no additional work would be available for the Northern Ireland construction industry, if that is what you are asking.

The Chairperson:

Hence my first question; there may well be an impact that should also be associated with total cost calculation, as regards the aborted programme. We must then examine the opportunities that will begin to emerge if a different, phased approach is taken, which might well also accommodate the participation of local companies.

Mr McNarry:

Perhaps we could clear up something, Mr O’Reilly. Are you expecting to accept a bonus in this financial year?

Mr O’Reilly:

No decisions have been taken yet on bonuses of any sort; first, whether there will be bonuses, and secondly, who will get them.

Mr McNarry:

Is that your reply?

Mr O’Reilly:

Yes. I am not in a position to state that.

Mr McNarry:

We have had a discussion on bonuses, but it seems to be —

Mr Weir:

Mr Chairperson, I am sure that Mr O’Reilly is happy to answer such questions, but I am not sure about the appropriateness of asking a question on an individual’s bonus during a discussion on Workplace 2010. I do not think that that is fair to the witness, and it is not the basis on which —

Mr McNarry:

It is very good of you, Peter, to defend people, but let me just —

Mr Weir:

I am raising an issue of procedure with the Chairperson.

Mr McNarry:

We are talking about performance.

Mr Weir:

We are talking about Workplace 2010.

Mr McNarry:

We are talking about its performance.

Mr McNarry:

If you want to sit in the Chairperson’s seat, put your name forward.

Mr Weir:

I am simply raising an issue with the Chairperson.

Mr McNarry:

You want to run every show that you are in. Just be quiet, calm down, and let other people get on with their business.

Mr Weir:

I am perfectly calm; I am just raising a point.

The Chairperson:

David, it is an issue that is before the Committee, and it is a legitimate issue. I am sure that you are conscious that it would perhaps be unfair to focus on an individual witness who is appearing before the Committee to discuss another item of business. I am depending on your —

Mr McNarry:

If I had thought that the question was unfair, I would not have asked it. I will move on.

Your paper gives details of the £9 million that was spent on consultants in developing the project, over half of which, everyone agrees — and the paper implies, anyhow — was futile. Is that the total expenditure of Workplace 2010, which the Committee has previously requested?

Mr P Irwin:

A number of different Assembly Questions have been asked. However, the same question is always asked in a slightly different way; in relation to consultancies, other spends, and so on. On top of the consultancy spend must be added internal and staffing costs of approximately £1·4 million.

Mr McNarry:

You mentioned some dates in 2004 and 2005. How long has DFP been working on the project?

Mr O’Reilly:

As I said earlier, the programme was initiated in January 2004, when a programme team was brought together. An outline business case was approved by the then Ministers in July 2005. That kicked off a process that led to the European-wide OJEU-based procurement, which commenced in October 2005. Events ran from then onwards.

Mr McNarry:

What are the real costs of the project? Are you adding on only £1·4 million for the time spent on it by departmental officials?

Mr P Irwin:

What do you mean by “adding on”?

Mr McNarry:

What are the real costs of the project when the time that senior DFP officials spent on it is taken into account?

Mr O’Reilly:

The primary costs, as regards time spent, would be those of the programme team. The time that David Orr and I spent, as an overhead, would account for a relatively small amount of the total cost.

Mr McNarry:

Can you give me a figure? It is a reasonable question. If you cannot give me a figure now, can you come back with a figure for the total cost?

Mr P Irwin:

Whatever assumptions we have must be set against how much of other people’s time is included in that amount. The £1·4 million relates to the specific costs associated with the people who were working full time on the programme.

Mr McNarry:

If there is anything worthwhile to add, it would be useful to hear about it. In addition to the project costs to date, can you put a figure on the loss to the public purse in respect of the project, and value-for-money savings, from the failure to successfully conclude the PFI deal?

Mr P Irwin:

We made the point earlier that, potentially, a value-for-money deficit is associated with the procurement process. There was a query about previous meetings that we had had with the Committee on the issue. Until the final business case is complete, the value-for-money equation cannot be finalised.

Mr McNarry:

People spent time examining and evaluating this matter before convincing the Executive that it should be implemented. What estimates were used to suggest that the deal would contribute to delivering value for the public purse?

Mr P Irwin:

First, those figures change as time goes by. Over the past 12 months, the value-for-money case for the deal, as structured in this way, has deteriorated on a daily basis because of the decrease in the value of property and the increase in the cost of credit. Any calculation of that type must be undertaken at a specific point in time.

Mr McNarry:

I hear what you say about the credit crunch, but that is a bit too late in my opinion. We have plenty to read here. Given that property prices are falling — and you are right to say that they are — is it not true to say that rentals are also falling, and in many cases on a pro rata basis, and that businesses are actually looking for substantial deals. Did anyone consider that the procurement process did not need to end when the value of property began to drop? Did anyone consider that if properties were devalued, or that if prices dropped by a certain percentage, rental prices would also drop proportionately? Have you any figures on that?

Mr P Irwin:

There are continual reassessments of the value-for-money situation.

Mr McNarry:

What happened the last time you reassessed it?

Mr P Irwin:

It is more complicated than that, and there are other issues involved. The deal also involves a lot of construction work, and one could argue that, in the current climate, that construction work could be undertaken more cost effectively than a year or two years ago.

Mr McNarry:

You do not have a contract, so I think that all of those options are open.

Mr P Irwin:

The fundamental issue is that the contract has structured our assessment and the assessment of the bidders that, in the current climate, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to fund it. Therefore, all of the other issues become, in a sense, supplemental if the deal cannot be done.

Mr McNarry:

I understand that, and I can see your point. Is it worthwhile doing a simple exercise to see whether a comparable deal can be resurrected? Given that you have 45% of the information; do you think there is value in doing that? People, who are more knowledgeable than me, as well as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and Personnel, say that, although there are certainly hardships given the current circumstances, there are also opportunities.

Perhaps there are opportunities that might go beyond your putting up four options, three of which you say are useless, and one of which you think you might head to, but of which you do not know the cost or how it will be funded. Perhaps it might be a worthwhile exercise to see whether the market is open to that.

Mr P Irwin:

That is exactly what we are going to do in strand 1.

Mr McNarry:

Yes, but you are on a far different scale. I hope that some people will get employment from it and that there will be more cash flow for companies — but you have already said that it is on a very small scale. It is almost like a pilot project.

The Chairperson:

David, are you suggesting that the entire bundle could be reviewed and brought forward in the new and current circumstances?

Mr McNarry:

I am almost suggesting that — and thank you for your help, Mr Chairperson — but the officials have more information than I have. I am only hearing the reason why the process stopped. I am unaware of what took place in the negotiations. I think that the market could sustain new negotiations on a larger scale than is being talking about, because there is value, which I wish to see resurrected.

Mr P Irwin:

I think that you are saying that our recommendations in the third strand, which will kick in from year 2 onwards, should be brought forward to accelerate the process.

Mr McNarry:

I have to be careful with my impatience and my choice of words. Sometimes, the term “cock-up” is used too often, and that might cause offence, but none is intended; it is just my impatience. It has been a long process, which began in 2004, and we are now talking about something along the same lines being achieved in two years’ time. I am impatient, particularly given the current circumstances, and I think we could do better. I will leave that line of questioning for you to consider what I have said.

You said that you first heard in November 2008 that the two companies were going to merge.

Mr O’Reilly:

I will ask my colleague to be very clear about that. We first knew that one of the companies was a potential acquirer of the other company in April 2008.

Mr P Irwin:

That is correct.

Mr McNarry:

There is a difference between acquiring and merging. I would like to stay on the point about merging.
Somewhere along the line, somebody said that it was in November.

Mr O’Reilly:

I want the information to be absolutely accurate: perhaps we could explain the sequence of events.

Mr Donnelly:

The word “merger” was a misnomer by whoever said it. The sequence of events was that in late 2007, Land Securities Group, the parent company of Trillium, which was the Workplace 2010 bidder, announced that it was undertaking a strategic review. That review could result in the group demerging and separately floating the Trillium company, or in reviewing sale options for LST. Obviously, they kept the internal workings of the review to themselves, and their first formal communication with the Department was in April 2008.

At that stage, Land Securities Group said that it was considering two approaches; first, to actively consider a demerger of the group, and; two, to invite bids for the sale of Trillium. At that point, we knew that, potentially, Telereal would be one of the companies that would bid when invitations were issued for the sale of Trillium.

Mr McNarry:

I am trying to find out your awareness of what was going on: that is quite important. You said that the bids came off rail and then came back on rail. When did you determine that Land Securities and Telereal were about to merge?

Mr O’Reilly:

It would be useful if we extend the context to cover the period from April to October. Very briefly, there were two sources of information available to us; first, there was the media chatter and background noise within the financial press.

Mr McNarry:

That is usually correct, is it not?

Mr O’Reilly:

Secondly, there was the formal communication with us, which was very important for the formal procurement processes. Perhaps Michael can explain what happened between April and October.

Mr Donnelly:

I certainly can. First, I will talk about the formal communications between the bidders and the Department, because there were fewer of those. In April 2008, LST came to us and said that as well as considering the demerger option it was going to invite bids for the purchase of the company. Telereal let us know that it was interested; however, it was one of a number of bidders. There was no real further communication from LST until much later in the summer.

Mr McNarry:

Can you provide us with accurate dates?

Mr Donnelly:

I can give you those dates now. The next formal communication from LST that had any bearing on the procurement process was on 10 October or 13 October, when it announced that it had progressed its process and was about to enter into exclusive talks with Telereal. Although LST would never make a firm announcement that that was a done deal, entering into exclusive talks with Telereal implied that there was a level of certainty in the negotiations that would require the Department to take stock of what that meant for the procurement process. Indeed, two weeks later — give or take a couple of days — we announced the suspension of the Workplace 2010 transaction. That covers the formal communications that took place.

During the course of the summer, from April to October, the Department was solely reliant on press speculation as to what was happening in the LST deal, because, rightly, the company was keeping commercially-sensitive information close to its chest. From April to August, there was speculation that four parties were bidding for Trillium. In August, it became clear that Telereal had withdrawn its bid, for reasons that were not disclosed in the press.

At that point, based on the information that we had received, we thought that the competitive threat to the procurement process had gone away and that we had a free hand to proceed as we had planned. In October, the press speculated that Telereal had made a further bid for the Trillium business, and a short time after that, Trillium did indeed come back to inform us that it had entered into exclusive talks.

Mr McNarry:

That is more than useful. Somewhere down the line, there will be a bit of a blame-game, and I am glad that you have documented that for the Hansard report.

Let us return to option (d) in your paper. On first analysis, I think we now agree that it appears to be the only declared viable option that the Department is proposing, although, something else may be considered in two years’ time that I am asking you to bring forward. You state that:

“It is not likely to involve the transfer of the NICS office estate”.

Will you elaborate on the ramifications that that will have for service delivery and for regions in Northern Ireland? I know that you have discussed it a bit, but what are the ramifications for what is stated in option (d)?

Mr O’Reilly:

I will give a preliminary answer. Philip will provide a little more of the background.

In stating that, we do not anticipate moving forward on the basis of what I referred to earlier as a total-property-PFI deal, in which title — including title to buildings and leases — are transferred to a consortia as part of an overall deal to provide and manage the office estate. We do not anticipate doing that sort of thing in the foreseeable future. However, the points that the Committee made earlier are right. What we are doing under the four options is identifying the basis on which we can move forward following the announcement on 20 February.

The Department does not envisage choosing a single option. We see it as a combination of these options. In the short term, and in order to let work where possible in the current economic climate — as the Committee has stressed — we are continuing with individual procurements and contracts. We have already given an example of that with regard to the Causeway Exchange building; however, over the coming months we will be seeking other opportunities to deal with what we know are current accommodation problems around the estate.

Option (d) talks about a “Strategic Partnership”, which is not necessarily, or maybe not at all, a PFI-type deal. It involves entering into a strategic partnership with a company or a group of companies over, say, a number of years; it will be a period in which the Department partners with them to provide the full package of office-accommodation needs.

That is advantageous, because we anticipate that the needs will be similar, particularly if we move to standardised office provision. It is more cost-effective for us and the supplying companies to know that rather than doing one office in Coleraine, another in Ballymena and a third in Downpatrick, or wherever, we can draw up a programme of work over a period of years. Doing so enables the supplying companies to deliver better value for money. We are not at that point yet, but that is probably where we envisage we would like to get.

Mr P Irwin:

It is important to identify that one of the major funding issues in the terminated Workplace 2010 PFI contract was to do with the fact that we were selling the estate. Therefore, bids were built on the Department obtaining a payment for transfer of the estate. The residual value of the buildings was a very important factor in the pricing of those bids.

There remain ways in which the private sector could be involved in funding strand 3, or elements of it, that would not involve actual transfer, and transfer of the residual value risk, which was key in respect of the funding issue. Therefore, underneath the “Strategic Partnership”, strand 3 could be funded in a number of different ways. The Department must look at those. We are saying that in the current climate it probably does not make sense to transfer the estate and its residual value risk, which was a significant factor in the funding difficulties.

Mr McNarry:

Mr O’Reilly talked about letters being exchanged between the Department and the bidders, and correspondence leading to the withdrawal of a bid. Is it in order for the Committee to see copies of that correspondence? It would make interesting reading, and it would help me to understand better what has gone on between the Department and the bidders, and how the cut-off point has been reached. The manner in which it has happened is quite extraordinary. I could understand it more easily if I could see the letters rather than having it explained to me.

Mr O’Reilly:

With the Committee’s agreement, I will check the details of that. Usually, for obvious commercial reasons there is a constraint, when a procurement process is live, in revealing what one bidder may say to the Department compared with another bidder. Without giving a firm commitment today, I envisage that in these circumstances — the process having been terminated — we ought to be able to put together the correspondence for circulation to the Committee.

The Chairperson:

If there is a commercial sensitivity, which there may be given that you are taking forward some form of the concept, the Committee could still have access to the documents in camera, I presume. We should ask for as much clarification as possible.

Mr McNarry:

As public representatives, we need to explain this to the public. We cannot blooming well explain what the bankers are up to, but we should be able to explain what is going on in here at least.

The Chairperson:

The request is reasonable, but as the accommodation issue still has to be resolved, there may be some kind of commercial sensitivity as regards the rollover of projections or whatever. That may not be the case, but if it is, I am sure that we can make an arrangement that would still allow the Committee to have access to the correspondence.

Mr McNarry:

Thank you; that would be useful.

Dr Farry:

I have a few brief questions. I would like to clarify two aspects of the announcement made on Friday: why was it made by a spokesperson rather than the Minister? What are the normal departmental protocols for that kind of announcement, bearing in mind its huge significance?

Mr O’Reilly:

It is relatively straightforward: we regard this as a procurement — albeit an important one — but one of many going on at various stages across the system. As soon as the companies had formally notified us that they were withdrawing their bids, we thought it important that the news be released as quickly as possible in the same way as we had previously issued notification of the suspension of the process.

Dr Farry:

I take your point that it is another procurement process; however, the flip-side of that coin is that you could say that this was potentially the biggest PFI contract in Northern Ireland’s history, and potentially one of the biggest on a UK level. That may put things in a different perspective in that it is at an unprecedented scale.

Mr O’Reilly:

I do not think that the Department thought that the release of the announcement would be the end of the situation, by any stretch. We were certainly anticipating further engagement.

Dr Farry:

Are there plans to make a formal statement to the Assembly? As you can appreciate, we are 11 people around a table, but given the wider public significance, does this issue merit a more formal statement on the Floor of the Assembly?

Mr O’Reilly:

I would have to refer that matter to the Minister.

Dr Farry:

Is it basically at his discretion as to whether that is done?

Mr O’Reilly:

It would be for his consideration, in light of the usual procedures.

Dr Farry:

My second question concerns the timing of the announcement, and whether it would have been better to make a statement directly to the Assembly rather than to the press, or potentially to this Committee, given that you were coming here this morning. The announcement took some of us by surprise. We are aware that there is a credit crunch, but we were not conscious that an announcement of this nature was imminent.

Mr O’Reilly:

I appreciate your point. When we announced the suspension of the procurement process back in late October or early November, we said that we anticipated a timetable leading to a final outcome in the very early months of this year.

Dr Farry:

Had the difficulty not arisen between the final two bidders and you had been in a position to proceed with entering into a contract 12 months or 18 months ago, what would be the situation now? Given that the credit crunch is now knocking a number of PFI projects off course, what potential risks would there have been had a private-sector company not been able to fulfil its contractual obligations?

Mr O’Reilly:

Are you talking about existing projects?

Dr Farry:

No. If, 18 months ago, the contract for Workplace 2010 had been signed with a bidder, and that bidder had subsequently gone bust because of the credit crunch, where would that have left us?

Mr O’Reilly:

That is a continuing problem. When PFI deals are signed, the financing arrangements will, by definition, have already been put in place. The only risk now is that those financial arrangements could, in some cases, become unstuck. However, from my reading of the situation, gained largely from the media, the problem has not been so much with existing PFI deals as with financing those that are in the pipeline. I am sure that members have read about those in the media.

Mr Donnelly:

I can comment specifically about the Department’s position on Workplace 2010. Had the deal continued to contractual completion, there might have been some further negotiation on the provisions for termination. However, the successful bidder would have had to sign a legal contract containing numerous provisions on what would happen in the event of termination, which, in this case, was defined as its inability to meet obligations. The first point to note is that if the bidder had defaulted, as in Dr Farry’s example, the Civil Service would have been made whole for the amount of money due to it. In the first instance, the bank would have stepped in to try to fund the contract.

Dr Farry:

That presupposes that the bank remains a going concern.

Mr Donnelly:

It does, and from the point at which the contract was suspended, only so much foresight could be applied to the provisions being negotiated.

Dr Farry:

Many of the assumptions that we make about the viability of projects are based on the notion of a continually growing market, and many projects have been knocked off course over the past year. Given that, are there wider lessons to be learnt about the approach to PFI or PPPs? Is there a need to reassess the Executive’s overall approach to PFI and the risks involved?

Mr O’Reilly:

Inevitably; given the current financial circumstances, it would be foolish to say otherwise.

Dr Farry:

How will a reassessment of that approach be progressed? Is it on the Minister’s and the Executive’s active agenda, or is it merely a theoretical objective to be completed at some stage?

Mr O’Reilly:

To the extent that potential PFI deals are still in the pipeline, it is happening in the context of those particular deals. Members will have read frequently that an often-cited reason for PFI deals being made in the past is that they took expenditure off balance sheet and therefore off the public expenditure balance sheet.

We, here, have always made a working assumption that all PFI deals would be on balance sheet and have never, therefore, been motivated by removal of expenditure from balance sheets. The criterion that we have always applied, and, as I stressed earlier, will continue to apply, is the simple principle of value for money. We judge whether PFI represents value for money compared with other ways of procuring and delivering public services. Michael is more familiar with the details, but that is the principle that we have been following.

Dr Farry:

I have two final technical questions about the way forward. First, is there a need to revise public service agreements to reflect the new circumstances, particularly when looking forward to the next two financial years of the current Programme for Government?

Secondly, you addressed most of the financing issues in your responses to Declan, but do you have full flexibility to transfer or reassign funds within your budget, or do you need to carry out a formal monitoring round to make changes? If so, bearing in mind that the first Budget Bill is going through the Assembly, do you have the legal authority to do that?

Mr O’Reilly:

The process is simply — I am sorry, I should stop using the word “simply”, because it usually is not. [Laughter.]

The process is that, and the Committee will understand this as it is directly involved, any reallocations of resources between Departments has to be approved by the Executive. DFP cannot move resources between Departments without Executive agreement, and we also cannot agree to certain resource movements in Departments without Executive approval. As you know, there are also wider constraints on the movement between different types of expenditure.

Secondly, as members also know very well, those Executive agreements are subsequently subject to approval through the Assembly’s statutory procedures. The point raised is that that continuing dynamic will require a continual review of the position moving forward regarding how money is being managed by Departments. The issue — and I know that it has been debated widely — is that the Budget was agreed in January 2008, and we are moving into the next financial year on the basis of the same broad amounts of money that are available to us. We envisage that whatever movements are necessary or required can be managed as required through, initially, the in-year monitoring process and, ultimately, through the process of approval in the Assembly.

The Chairperson:

The senior official who briefed the Committee on Workplace 2010 told us that much of the Civil Service estate was in very bad condition and requires a great deal of investment, which must be urgently addressed. Is there an assessment of the current state of the estate, and has there been a reinstatement of maintenance programmes?

Mr P Irwin:

We are actively reviewing the current position with respect to the first strand of that work that I mentioned. We are prioritising the elements of the work that should fall into that category. We are doing that on the basis of business need and on the basis of the state of the buildings in which different units and Departments currently occupy.

The situation is slightly more complicated because existing leasing agreements, and so on, come into play in that one does not want to spend money on buildings that are not intended for use in the medium or long term. However, we are actively considering the implications that the termination of the programme has for budgets in the maintenance and upkeep of buildings, and also for the staffing structures in my division in particular — in which the implications of the buildings going to, and being managed by, the private sector also had staffing implications. That is being actively reviewed at the moment.

The Chairperson:

Are there any health and safety concerns?

Mr P Irwin:

We would always have undertaken our statutory obligations in any case. Other elements of the maintenance budget become slightly more discretionary — particularly when we know that we intend to be out of certain buildings in the short term. In such cases, we perhaps held back on maintenance that was required, but we never draw the line low enough to fall below our statutory requirements regarding health and safety.

The Chairperson:

One of the drivers for the original Workplace 2010 concept was efficiency. Is there any assessment of costs associated with current working conditions that need to be taken into account when recasting the options?

Mr P Irwin:

Efficiency plays a part in that process. Efficiency regarding the use of space is obviously an important part of that. As you said, a lot of Workplace 2010 was predicated on the efficient use of space. We are saying that the fundamental assumptions and objectives of Workplace 2010 remain. We are seeking to reach the point at which we gain those efficiency savings through a different mechanism.

The Chairperson:

I am seeking an assurance that that will be one of the considerations in identifying the projects that can proceed in the short term and demonstrate that there is an efficiency gain, as well as addressing the issue of the quality of accommodation. Those will have a direct impact on working conditions and morale.

I was interested in the last line of the press statement of 20 February 2009:

“Telereal and Trillium remain committed to assisting the NICS to achieve its accommodation objectives.”

Will you clarify that, given that negotiations have terminated?

Mr P Irwin:

The accommodation objectives remain the same. I believe that they are saying that they are keen to consider participating in subsequent procurements, should those be launched. They were sensitive about being seen to turn their backs on Northern Ireland, where they have other business.

The Chairperson:

I suspect that the statement raises more questions than answers.

However, may I clarify a couple of things? May the Committee have an update on the health-check process in relation to Clare House, as the Department formulates its plans to go forward on the accommodation issue? There may be some different views among Committee members, but I was impressed with the idea of modernising accommodation and working conditions, and dealing with the culture changes involved, despite the challenges. Therefore, can the Committee be kept abreast of that, because, quite clearly, the lessons-learned aspect of Clare House is absolutely critical in taking this forward?

Mr P Irwin:

As we start to roll this out into other areas, such as the DCAL move, we will keep the Committee up to speed with the changes that we introduce and how we go about implementing those changes within Departments such as DCAL, where we are introducing a similar specification, but doing so in a slightly different way.

The Chairperson:

Finally, the Committee held a closed session on Workplace 2010 on 18 June 2008. Does the Hansard report of that meeting remain commercially sensitive, given that the process has been terminated?

Mr P Irwin:

The session was held at a time when we were in competition and there was sensitivity about the status of individual bids becoming public knowledge. I think that the termination of the procurement means that that is no longer the case.

The Chairperson:

The reason for my question is that I would like the Committee to consider whether to agree that the report be published, in accordance with Committee’s standard practice. Therefore, do you think that the Committee would be safe in doing that?

Mr P Irwin:

May we consider that and return to the Committee?

The Chairperson:

Yes. You may wish to refresh your memory and then advise the Committee.

Mr O’Reilly:

As Philip said, our instinct is that it should be alright, but may we just check?

The Chairperson:

Fair enough. Please let the Committee know and then it can make a call on the issue.

Thank you for what has been a useful session. I apologise for keeping you waiting in the first instance, and I apologise to our other witnesses, who will deal with a different topic. I think that the discussion was worthwhile and very helpful. Thank you for your assistance, and take care.

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