Minister McGrath publishes tender for the External Assurance Process on major infrastructure projects

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath TD, has approved the publication of the Request for Tenders (RFT) for the External Assurance Process (EAP). The EAP will be utilised for major infrastructure proposals (those estimated to cost in excess of €100 million).

As part of Review to Renew the National Development Plan (NDP) Review, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) committed to strengthening the scrutiny of major public investment proposals. International evidence suggests that the single most effective guard against major project failure is incorporating an independent external review before project commencement.

Projects requiring External Assurance Process Review

Public investment proposals over €100m require Government approval at key decision gates in line with the public spending code. The current process involves assurance by the funding department, and a DPER scrutiny and challenge role through business case technical reviews. While this has proven useful, the ability to robustly challenge on substantive delivery issues such as scrutiny of costings, feasibility of delivery plans, and appropriateness of procurement strategies needs to be strengthened.

Minister McGrath said: “The public has a very strong desire for realistic and timely delivery of major capital projects, and I want to ensure these expectations are met. I am acutely aware of the pitfalls that have arisen in the past, which have delayed projects or given rise to additional costs, and I am taking immediate actions to address weaknesses in the process. In particular, we need a strong challenge function at key stages in the process to ensure risks are identified and fully addressed.

“The panel of external experts will add to the depth of knowledge within my own department in delivering complex, multi-year major capital projects. The pandemic has shown us that harnessing additional skill sets leads to better results overall for the public, and I am determined that we bring new thinking to bear in how we meet the very obvious infrastructure needs we have as a country.”

Independent expert reviews

The External Assurance Process will involve independent expert reviews at two critical stages in the project lifecycle under the public spending code (before approval in principle and pre-tender). This will allow for robust scrutiny of the costs underpinning major public investment proposals and the consideration given to risk, delivery and governance in the business case for the proposal. The process will supplement DPER’s current role in conducting the formal reviews of business cases allowing for more robust scrutiny of the technical elements of planned delivery.

EAP timeline

Minister McGrath has agreed to publish the RFT for establishing a framework of external experts to review business cases at two critical stages (Decision Gates 1 & 2 of the PSC). The RFT is available here. The RFT will seek responses from the market for six specific skillsets for experts in those areas to join a framework for a period of three years.

It is planned that the expert reviewer framework will be finalised in September 2021, with a circular that sets out the new requirements in the public spending code due in early-Q4 2021.

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