The Public Contracts Regulations 2006 and Northern Ireland public procurement policy determines how the Housing Executive decides on the suitability or otherwise of contractors by way of pre-qualification questionnaires. Those test the final capacity and the technical and professional ability of contractors to carry out required works or services. The criteria for the selection of suitable tenderers may include, for example, construction line category value, annual turnover, experience, management structures, and health and safety procedures. Those criteria may be tested by way of a pass/fail mechanism or scored with relevant thresholds attached. Those contractors that are deemed suitable will then be invited to tender by the Housing Executive.
That is a very pertinent question, and it goes to the heart of the recent issue of maintenance contracts in the Housing Executive. We recently appointed ASM to undertake a forensic examination of Housing Executive response maintenance contracts, and I expect that report to be completed by June. It is vital that we get to the heart of how those contracts are managed, monitored and delivered.
There was an issue some time ago with one particular contractor, but I have received complaints — I am sure that most MLAs have — from constituents about the problems that they are facing with other contractors. I still have reservations about the quality of some of the work that is being undertaken, particularly in light of the refurbishment of just four homes in lower Oldpark last month by a Housing Executive contractor. I mentioned that as an area that we are focusing on. The quality of the work that was initially undertaken was simply unacceptable, but more worryingly, it went under the radar of the Housing Executive until the local community invited my officials to see the homes for themselves. Although immediate work was undertaken to put right the many faults once my staff had identified them, that poor workmanship should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, and it should not have been left to the local community to inspect and report back after it had been allowed to happen.
Another example was brought to my attention yesterday of a house in another estate that was about to be handed over to a tenant. Officials told her that everything was well and that the house was in order to move into. However, photographs that were taken of the house yesterday show a heater in one room without a knob on it. I would have thought that it is a good idea to have knobs on heaters so that they can be switched on, but perhaps that does not occur to some Housing Executive contractors. There are a lot of questions still to be addressed about Housing Executive contractors.
The Minister mentioned that some contractors had gone under the radar and said that they are being reviewed. The Housing Executive currently works with Egan contracts. Does the Minister have any intention of reviewing how those contracts are awarded? If contractors are managing their own contracts and assessing their own work, that will allow them to slip under the radar.
The Housing Executive has completed an evaluation process for the selection stage to procure new contractors. It has selected the companies that will proceed to tender and hopes to issue tender documents this week, for return by 16 January 2012. I can assure the Member that major changes have been made to the current tendering process. A gateway review health check late last year contained 14 recommendations in relation to procurement and contract management, and, as a result, the Housing Executive set up a project team to put in place the health check recommendations. Those have been incorporated into the procurement strategy and the tendering process that is now under way. A further health check was completed in October 2011, confirming that the procurement process had made considerable progress. It is considered that that will proceed to a successful completion.