Derry City Council has confirmed that the man who was contracted as the Executive Events Producer for UK City of Culture 2013 at a rate of over £1,000 a day was previously a bidder in a tender process that was abandoned amid claims by the Culture Company that it was not consulted.
Documents obtained by this paper and made public earlier this year revealed that John Farquhar Smith was paid £1,000-plus per day plus costs towards accommodation after being contracted for that position.
The Council initially tendered for a Production Consultant, but that process was abandoned towards the end of January due to a change in the scope “as identified by the Project Director and the Senior Responsible Officer”.
This led to an exchange of emails - now released to the Londonderry Sentinel under the Freedom of Information Act - from disappointed and surprised bidders for the position of Production Consultant.
One asked for information from the council’s Procurements and Payments Manager, Colin Kileen, saying that the changes had occurred “between Thursday at noon and on Monday at 4.39pm”, adding that “it does seem a very short length of time to identify such major changes as regards the scope of the role”.
A couple asked for feedback on the scoring but were told that as the process had been abandoned no feedback would be offered.
The abandonment of the process caught the Culture Company by surprise, with its Director of Operations, Aine Gallagher telling Mr Kileen that it had not been consulted about this move and that the tender process had used up resources for evaluation.
She concluded: “Sorry if this seems a bit like ‘shooting the messenger’ although in this case we don’t even have a messenger!”
Given the controversy, the Sentinel used the Freedom of Information Act to seek documentation about what led to the change in scope, and to the decision to abandon the original process at such a late stage on January 28.
In response, the council furnished a series of emails, beginning with Mr Killeen’s email outlining that the tender would not now be awarded.
Other emails relating to the process that saw two men interviewed (apparently by Skype after the submission of detailed project plans) echo details in a document prepared for a council meeting which said that, due to the change in the scope of services, various options were explored with the Head of Human resources and the Procurement Manager, and the preferred option was to engage the professional services through specialist interim providers. This option was agreed with the Project Director and SRO on the 14th February 2013, according to the record seen by the Sentinel.
The documents show that while Mr Killeen initially believed a tender process would be involved, the urgency to get an appointment in place after the change of scope and the abandonment of the Production Consultant tender led to a different approach.
One report to councillors, originally marked ‘Confidential’ reveals that the “revised specification” was drawn up and issued to three specialist agencies on February 14, following agreement with the Project Director and the SRO. All interested parties were asked to submit CVs by Tuesday, February 19. From the five who submitted CVs, two were deemed to meet the required standard. Interviews for the position took place on February 21 conducted by Dermot McLaughlin and the Head of Human Resources at Derry City Council and the Procurement Manager. What separated the candidates was cost.
This process is also shown in an email from Sinead McNicholl, head of HR, which outlines the spec and criteria to potential candidates, and also the need for speed.
One email says: “Colin/ Dermot, I have amended by taking out all reference to tender process.
“Can you please have one final look over to make sure you are happy and I will forward to the agencies once I have the green light from yourselves. I aim to give them only a few days to turn around CVs, as they have already indicated they have people they know.”
The confidential record also shows that the Town Clerk and Chief Executive had discussed the creation of the post with the Internal Assurance Board to advise them of the position and the process to engage the Executive Events Producer. In a section of the report called ‘Key Issues’ it states: “This type of support has now been outstanding since the abandonment of the tendering process and remains a critical resource to fill. The main funder, DECAL and Strategic Investment Board have expressed their concern to the Project Director (Dermot McLaughlin) that the assurance provided to the Programme for Government Group of the appointment of this additional resource has not been completed.”
An email from Dermot McLaughlin tells Sinead McNicholl and Colin Killeen on February 21 that it was two and a half months since the Programme for Government Group had heard the new resource was imminent.
He added: “Paradoxically the lapse of the last two months has not really minimised any needs and is certainly not creating any savings, in fact we are in a tight enough spot with event planning and management right now.”
In another he says the production consultancy budget agreed was £144.4k for additional delivery, and, giving some assumed figures used by SIB and DCAL, asked whether the budget would be breached once the “agency fee” was added.
The document marked ‘confidential’ also reveals that the winner of the position (John Farquhar Smith) would be employed to a maximum of 120 days over the remaining 10 months of 2013.
It states: “It has been advised by the Project Director that there is a full time requirement for the resource until the end of June 2013 to see through key events, and thereafter on a part-time basis. It is intended to engage with (the postholder) on a month by month basis, at the agreement and based on the needs of the Project Director. (The post-holder’s) daily rate inclusive of all expenses is £1,015.”
This was in comparison to a daily rate of £1,088 quoted from the other interviewed candidate.
“Both candidates were requested to provide rates excluding accommodation on the basis that Council would provide an appropriate apartment in a city centre location.”
Based on previous experience this is estimated at approximately £600 a month.
“Based on the requirement it was felt the most cost effective option would be to engage the post-holder at his proposed rate including expenses. The project Director has confirmed that DECAL Permanent Secretary has authorised this additional resource and therefore there is no financial implications for Council,” said the report.
A spokesperson for Derry City Council told the Sentinel that John Farquhar Smith “did take part in the abandoned tendering process”.
He had also previously been brought in as a consultant on the City of Culture project by the Strategic Investment Board.