19th September 2012

Fine Gael TD for Kildare North, Anthony Lawlor, has urged the Department of Education to ensure that common sense prevails when awarding contractors for school building projects. This is particularly relevant in terms of the six new schools planned for the Kildare North area in Naas, Celbridge and Maynooth and for the major extensions set for Clane, Celbridge and Kilcock.

“In the last couple of years two schools in the constituency have failed to open on schedule because the contractors awarded the tender to build the schools found themselves in financial difficulties. At Kill National School only the raising walls were built when then initial contractor went bust delaying the opening of the school by eighteen month, which was finally completed by a second contractor. Unfortunately lessons were not learned from this situation as the opening of Ardclough National School has now also been delayed because the contractor failed to bring the building up to Fire Safety and Disability Access standards. A second contractor is now being sought to complete the works.

“I appreciate the severe problems which construction companies are currently facing due to the collapse of the building industry. However I firmly believe that the Department of Education must bear in mind the viability of the company when awarding tenders rather than just looking at the lowest tender price. It would appear that the Department is obliged by EU procurement directives to award the tender to the lowest bidder as opposed to using foresight in terms of the contractors capacity to complete the project as per the tender specifications. Clearly value for money is necessary in terms of public projects but, as has occurred twice in my constituency, this is not always best practice. Settling for the lowest price can result in a greater cost to the state when a second contractor needs to be sought. Furthermore, when large contractors face difficulties, sub contractors who are generally local trades persons suffer due to non-payment which has a knock on effect throughout the community.

“I hope the Minister takes on board my suggestion that the procurement section of his Department, when undertaking an analysis at prequalification stage, ensures all risks associated with a contractor are taken into consideration and the Department is not constrained by EU rules. It is important that common sense is allowed to prevail. We cannot allow a situation to arise again whereby the hopes of parents, pupils and teachers are dashed when their school is not completed on schedule.”