Northern Ireland Audit Office Report on Public Procurement in Northern Ireland – The Recommendations
The Northern Ireland Audit Office (“NIAO”) has released a damming report on public procurement (“the Report”), which concludes that Northern Ireland’s Procurement Board (the “Board”) which was reconstituted in 2020 has not “been effective in providing the strategic direction to ensure that procurement has operated effectively in Northern Ireland”.
The Report raises warnings on the state of public procurement in Northern Ireland and the Procurement Board, the body assigned responsibility for policy, policy compliance, performance targets, and performance monitoring in relation to public procurement. The Report points to several “recurring, high-profile procurement failures that diminish stakeholder confidence”, resulting from issues regarding strategy, capability, governance, and transparency.
NIAO Report makes four recommendations for the Board to put in place:
A fundamental review to ensure that support is available to enable effective strategy setting, policy development, governance and accountability. The Report notes that current arrangements are not adequate. For example, some Board Members who are also heads of Centres of Procurement Expertise (CoPE) are involved in setting and monitoring targets, whilst also being subject to them.
Development of a new strategy. The Report acknowledges that advances have been made in the form of new policies and toolkits. However, there is no strategic vision and end goal underpinning them.
Strategic oversight of capacity and capability. A detailed breakdown of the shortfall between staff in post and the CoPE’s assessed requirements was requested but inadequate data was furnished to enable the identification of the capacity and capability issues.
Arrangements to ensure that all bodies provide complete accurate and timely data to enable effective oversight. The Report notes that the “off-the-shelf replacement for eTendersNI being introduced in 2024 will not address this. Rather, once the data needs are agreed, the CoPE will be required to provide such to the Board in a standard format. In addition, to enable the Board to achieve strategic oversight of capacity and capability there is an intention to introduce an annual scorecard to measure CoPE deliverables.
Quigg Golden comment
Procurement in Northern Ireland is going through a period of scrutiny and change. Despite the Board’s progress in delivering new Procurement Policy Notes and toolkits, it is clear that an overarching strategy document is needed to underpin new policy. This will also create a common understanding throughout all CoPE and contracting authorities. In addition, a common frustration in the Report is the lack of meaningful data to measure basic performance information on procurement in Northern Ireland. It is clear that robust and meaningful data is needed to ensure accountability and transparency.
Published 20 February 2024
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