Tender for rebuilding of Belfast’s Lyric Theatre ‘may have been rigged’

Stormont investigation report outlines failings in how preferred bidder for €11m contract was selected

The theatre’s construction ended up costing £17.8 million – more than £5 million over estimate.

The theatre’s construction ended up costing £17.8 million – more than £5 million over estimate.

 

The tender process that awarded an £11 million contract to rebuild the landmark Lyric Theatre in Belfast was potentially rigged and manipulated, a damning Stormont investigation has found.

Serious failings in how a preferred bidder was selected were outlined in a wider report on a £25 million over-spend on seven capital projects delivered, and predominantly funded, by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The investigation by the Public Accounts Committee found flaws in the department’s handling of all seven builds – which ultimately ended up costing £103.4 million, having been estimated at £78.5 million – but its assessment of the Lyric project was particularly critical.

The theatre’s construction ended up costing £17.8 million – more than £5 million over estimate – with the department footing £12.2 million of the bill.

Much of the committee’s focus centred on the tender process that saw construction firm Gilbert Ash NI Ltd awarded an £11 million building contract in 2008. The report did not criticise the successful bidder but found fault with the department, the Northern Ireland Arts Council and the Department of Finance’s central procurement directorate – the body responsible for advising government on tendering issues.

Failures in the awarding process were revealed earlier this year in an Audit Office report. The subsequent PAC investigation re-examined the matter and made its own conclusions.

The report said the way the contract was awarded was significantly flawed and failed to adhere to principles of good practice. “Taking all of the points in the round, the committee is left with a very strong impression that the outcome of the tender process was both rigged and manipulated.”


Quality undisputed
Chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee Michaela Boyle said: “The quality of the rebuilt Lyric Theatre is undisputed; we recognise that it is a highly impressive theatre and that it has deservedly won a number of prestigious awards.

“However, the end does not justify the means. My committee has found that there were significant departures from good practice.”

A Gilbert Ash spokeswoman said the firm did not have any control over adjustments made to the tender submissions. “We had no control over the adjustment to tender costs made during the procurement process, a practice that is standard in our industry to allow for like for like comparison of bids.”

Minister of Finance Simon Hamilton said: “This project was grant funded and therefore it was not managed or procured by CPD [central procurement directorate].”

The contractor procured by consultants appointed by the Lyric Theatre. The consultants had full responsibility for assessing tenders and for awarding the contract. – (PA)