Written Answers. - Departmental Contracts.
Minister for Education and Science
if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) which has the contract to construct and maintain five schools here was also responsible for maintenance of parts of the British rail network; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the company recorded huge profits from those contracts; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the company was responsible for maintenance of the rail line at Potters Bar where inadequate maintenance resulted in the deaths of seven people and 60 injured in a rail accident; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the company went to what the families of the victims called absurd lengths to avoid paying compensation; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a non-executive director of this company resigned over corruption allegations in August 2002; and his views on whether this is the sort of company to be trusted to maintain schools.
I want to make clear that EU procurement guidelines were fully followed in relation to the selection of the preferred bidder and a rigorous assessment process applied. Following an EU wide tender competition, the contract for the construction of a bundle of five post-primary schools under the first education public private partnership project was signed in November 2001 with Jarvis Projects Limited. The first of the schools was officially handed over to my Department on the 1st of this month, seven weeks ahead of schedule.
Prior to and during the process of selecting the preferred bidder, a project board containing representation from the consultancy team supporting my Department, which included financial and legal representatives, the Department of Education and Science, and the Department of Finance, undertook a rigorous examination of all the selected consortia bidding for the contract. Evaluation groups were established to assess the bids under design and technical, services, finance and legal issues. This process involved a detailed examination of proposals and a thorough examination of the companies ability to deliver on them. In addition, PPP schools in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland were visited, including some developed by Jarvis Projects, in order to access the quality of the product to be delivered.
The project agreement between my Department and the operator provides a legal framework for the delivery of the required services. In addition, it provides for sufficient legal remedy should there be any failure on the part of the operator. These range from the deduction of part of the initiary payment to the termination of the contract.
Furthermore, the agreement includes guarantees for the rectification of the project at termination with no additional cost to my Department.
The five schools involved were afforded access to each of the bid proposals and were unanimous in their support of the Jarvis proposals. The new service will be phased in over a period of time. As this is a major new service, with a new approach and new systems, it is not possible to be specific at this stage in regard to the timeframe that the provision of the full service will entail. It is, however, the board's intention that, in rolling out the new service, priority will be given to those children who are not in receipt of an education and to areas of high disadvantage. It is the board's intention, and mine, that the new service will be in place as speedily as possible.