Arthur Cox chairman not privy to tender process - HSE

 

Arthur Cox awarded €19 million annual legal contract despite its bid being significantly higher than that of a rival consortium, writes PAUL CULLEN

THE HEALTH Service Executive (HSE) has said a long-time board member absented himself from discussions which resulted in the award of a €19 million annual contract to his legal firm.

Eugene McCague, chairman of Arthur Cox, would not have been provided with any documentation that was relevant to the tendering process, a HSE spokeswoman said.

Last month, the HSE board made Arthur Cox the preferred bidder to provide legal services for the organisation, a contract worth €58 million over three years.

Arthur Cox got the nod for the contract despite the fact that its bid was significantly higher than that of a rival consortium of legal firms.

The HSE opted for the higher bid even though one of its stated aims in putting legal services out to tender was to achieve a “significant reduction” in cost.

The outcome of the protracted tendering process has angered the unsuccessful consortium, made up of three firms – Byrne Wallace, Comyn Kelleher Tobin and Philip Lee. Some of these are now considering their legal options but sources say they have been warned by the HSE not to voice their grievances through the media.

The decision to make Arthur Cox the preferred bidder for the contract was made at a HSE board meeting in mid-December.

The spokeswoman said no contract had yet been awarded and she was unable to say when this would happen.

Mr McCague has been on the board of the HSE for the past six years.

Arthur Cox won the contest by outscoring the rival consortium on criteria other than price.

However, the margin was extremely close, according to sources involved with the process, with Arthur Cox scoring 680 points compared to the consortium’s 675, from a possible maximum of 1,000.

The winner of the contract will act as the lead provider of legal services for the HSE and will manage corporate legal services, even though the executive has recently beefed up its inhouse legal department through the creation of an office of legal affairs staffed by four lawyers.

The new head of legal affairs in the HSE, Eunice O’Raw, earned more than €4 million in fees as a barrister at the Planning tribunal over the period of a decade.

Ms O’Raw, who was appointed to the board of RTÉ last year, was called to the Bar a year before the tribunal started in 1997.

The HSE spokeswoman said its new approach to delivering legal services would significantly reduce costs as well as making them more predictable and visible, and would deliver consistent service and high quality legal advice at all time and on all issues.

As the successful bidder, Arthur Cox will provide corporate legal advice as well as managing the services provided by 35 local and specialised legal firms.