Here are some public interest issues that have got scant attention in recent weeks.
1. In compliance with Cabinet procedures, the Government’s decision to tender for the construction and fit-out of the proposed NMH must be based on a detailed business case prepared under the Public Spending Code.
2. The business case will have assessed construction and other risks. It is assumed it will be informed by the many (avoidable) mistakes made in the procurement of the National Children’s Hospital. The business case will set an affordability cap based on a financial and economic appraisal having regard to a detailed design brief and technical specifications for the NMH benchmarked against comparable projects.
3. The Public Spending Code and the Construction Works Management Framework also require the setting up of a Project Board with express responsibility for project governance and oversight. In the interest of transparency, the name of the chairperson and members of the Board should be announced when the tender is published.
4. A Project Execution Plan is also an output of the business case.
5. Given that at least €1 billion in taxpayers’ money is at stake, it will be interesting to see who will actually tender the project. Will the Minister for Health, the HSE, or the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group be the contracting authority and therefore accountable to the PAC?
6. The Government has to decide which tendering process will be used to deliver value for money. The NCH was procured using the restricted procedure, which was a disaster with hindsight. To get value for money consistent with the project’s minimum requirements (and detailed design specifications) the Government must use what is called the Competitive Procedure with Negotiation as this will allow the contracting authority’s and contractor’s objectives (and costs) to be almost fully aligned before a Best and Final Offer tender is submitted.
7. If a tender seeking to pre-qualify contractors under the Competitive Procedure with negotiation is published in the coming weeks, and provided the contracting authority is fully resourced, a contract with a successful bidder could be concluded within six to nine months.
8. At project commencement, and well before a preferred primary contractor is appointed, an external (independent) assurance process has to be completed in line with DPER guidance. This new arrangement is designed to allow for robust scrutiny of the projects costs.
9. Finally, again in the interest of transparency, the business case and the external assurance review reports (perhaps suitably redacted) should be published. The Minister for Finance has spoken several times about the benefit in making these documents available.