Building Maintenance in the Education and Library Boards

In his report on the awarding of building maintenance contracts by the Education and Library Boards, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland highlights:

  • the need for systematic management information to demonstrate that fairness and equity in the treatment of contractors is being achieved (paragraph 2.14). The Audit Office found that none of the Boards has systematic management information to enable them to demonstrate equitable rotation of contractors.
  • examples of good practice across the Boards. In particular, all Boards have Standing Orders for the Making of Contracts (paragraph 2.16) and clear tender documentation (paragraph 3.2).
  • the need to ensure that proper procedures are followed and that contracts are not artificially split, thereby avoiding the need for competition (paragraph 2.30). The Audit Office found evidence in two Boards (paragraphs 2.26 and 2.28) of jobs being artificially split, thereby avoiding competitive procedures.
  • the scope for greater standardisation of procedures and sharing of good practice between the Boards, with a view to a more regional approach to the awarding of building maintenance contracts (paragraphs 2.36 and 3.20).

Other Main Findings and Recommendations

On sourcing and selecting contractors

  • In addition to existing Codes of Conduct, Boards should have arrangements in place to determine whether contractors have had any relationship other than as a contractor with the Board, or a relationship with the employees of a Board. Maintenance contracts should include an obligation for contractors to advise of any known potential conflicts of interest (paragraph 2.8).
  • The report recommends that Boards should establish benchmark costs, both for overall maintenance in schools and for specific types of maintenance work, and should collaborate in undertaking a regular benchmarking exercise (paragraph 2.34).

On processing quotations and tenders

  • The Audit Office found a variation of 20% or more between the price estimate and the lowest quotation or tender received in around half the cases it examined. Tender prices were more often lower, rather than higher, than the estimate, a possible indication that the specification had not been fully complied with. Only one Board formally documents the reasons for such variations. The report recommends that Boards should formally compare prices and estimates and record reasons for differences, so that the person approving the acceptance of a price does so on the basis of full information (paragraph 3.16).