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Business owners angered at cost of An Post tender process

Companies hoping to obtain work with the semi-State body have been asked to pay a fee in order to put in for a tender.

JUST MONTHS AFTER a climbdown on the way it issued a tender looking for suppliers ahead of a 1916 commemoration, An Post has once again been criticised for its procurement processes.

A current demand by the semi-State body for graphic design and digital marketing services has been put out to tender but small firms have been asked to register at a high level with a third party to ensure they are in with a chance.

Achilles, the firm hired by An Post to help choose the eventual service provider, asks prospective tenderers to register at level three status on its Supply-Line database at a cost of €395 plus VAT.

An Post says it uses the firm to ensure efficiency for European tenders.

Responding to requests from, An Post said it uses a variety of processes to assess tenders, “depending on the nature of a contract and its value”.

“For European Tenders, the Achilles Supply Line system is used,” it explained. “At any given time An Post in involved in running a significant number of tender processes that must comply with legislation and EU Procurement Directives. Such tenders must be run in an efficient, fully transparent and timely manner and the Achilles service is used by us for this reason.”

However, business owners feel cheated by the system.

“Businesses will be out of pocket,” said the owner of one small firm who was invited to apply for the job.

“It runs counter to government policy to encourage companies to participate in competition for public work. It is a complete and utter contradiction. And distinctly unfair.”

It eliminates companies from being able to compete, she added.

Contacted by, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said it “has no difficulty in principle with public bodies using the services of third parties to help manage aspects of their procurement work (e.g. their tender processes) provided, of course, that the engagement of any such third party services is, itself, done in accordance with the appropriate rules governing public procurement”.

Government policy does not preclude the use of such services, it added, and it remains open to public bodies to enter into arrangements for these should they consider them justified.

“What the rules quite clearly prohibit is a practice of public bodies having their contract opportunities exclusively available to firms only if they pay a fee, whether that fee is directly connected to the individual contract opportunity or indirectly to some associated process.”

“Achilles is on both sides of the transaction now,” said one business owner, who wanted to remain anonymous. “That’s the kernel of it. They get paid for their services by An Post and also receive money from tenderers.”

ISME chief executive Mark Fielding says Ireland is still ‘behind’ in terms of how public and semi-State bodies procure services.

“This system means the cost of the tender is just passed onto the tenderer, rather than the body looking for the work,” he explains.

“Government have enough people in place that it shouldn’t be costing us more money. Everyone has a choice whether to employ some of these procurement agents, but you would have thought that government agencies could do that themselves.”

Having to complain and criticise the process – or check if certain payments are necessary – puts the onus back on small businesses, he adds, and ultimately costs more money.

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