C&AG finds ‘substantial deficiencies’ in Irish Coast Guard’s award of van contract

Multiple vans still needed to transport cliff rescue teams and equipment to call-outs

The State’s spending watchdog has criticised the Irish Coast Guard’s purchase of vans for cliff rescue teams due to a number of “anomalies” in how the contract was awarded.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) found there were "substantial deficiencies" in how the bids of two suppliers for the State contract were assessed.

The contract to supply 18 vans for cliff rescue teams, between 2016 and last year, cost nearly €1.4 million.

The initial tender advertisement indicated that the coast guard, which sits under the Department of Transport, was looking to purchase a minimum of four vehicles and estimated the value of the contract at €160,000.


Only two suppliers submitted bids, which the C&AG said may have been due to the “underestimation” of the contract value.

There were “clear and substantial deficiencies” in how the two bids were evaluated. “As a result, there is no reasonable basis to conclude that the department conducted a fair and impartial procurement process,” the report said.

It said it was “unacceptable” that there were “major gaps” in the records around the process, and how the bids were evaluated. “It is not known whether this is because the required evaluation was never properly done, or because records created were subsequently mislaid or destroyed,” the report said.

The C&AG noted bidder A, who was awarded the contract, “had previously fitted out vehicles for the Coast Guard”.


The State auditor said both bidders were proposing to supply the same Ford Transit model, which was “identical” in technical respects. However, the report found bidder B was given “significantly less marks” when evaluated on suitability, compared to bidder A.

“The examination team could not identify any reasonable explanation or rationale for the scores awarded. Since both bidders were proposing essentially the same vehicle, it is unclear why bidder B was not awarded the same marks,” the report said.

Bidder A proposed to supply vehicles at a cost of €46,678 each, including fit out, and was awarded the full 25 marks in the cost section of the evaluation.

Bidder B proposed to supply at a cost of €44,850 per vehicle, but was only awarded 20.5 marks in that section. The report said “there is no evident basis for the difference in the marks”.

The report found “no evidence” of the views of volunteers who would use the vehicles being sought before contracts were signed.

The contract was signed in November 2015, and only after that point did the Irish Coast Guard convene a technical group to advise on the vehicles, which "greatly diminished" any chance for input.

“Immediately after the contract was signed, issues around the carrying capabilities of the vehicles were identified,” the report said.

The contract had sought vehicles capable of carrying seven adults and equipment with a total weight below 3,500 kg.

Not capable

The vans proposed by both bidders “were not capable of carrying seven people within the ideal gross vehicle weight of 3,500 kg, even without the standard cliff rescue equipment,” the report said.

Problems emerged in late 2016 after the first van was delivered. An internal report noted the vehicle had “very limited use for a cliff rescue team”. There were issues with the vans carrying a full team as well as their equipment.

The C&AG said it was “not clear whether the department considered varying or halting the procurement of further vehicles in light of the concerns raised”.

The report noted how despite additional upgrades, there was still a “continuing reliance” on using multiple vans to transport a cliff team and their equipment to call-outs. This raised “doubt over the value for money achieved” by the Irish Coast Guard, it said.

A department spokesman said the coast guard’s procurement processes had been “reviewed and updated” on foot of the report, and it would implement the C&AG’s recommendations. “The vehicles purchased are a considerable improvement on the previous vans in use by cliff rescue teams.”

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times