A PANEL of external consultants is to be set up to support the unit established to advise the Government on the sale of state assets.
The potentially lucrative contracts will be awarded to experts on corporate finance, accountancy, tax and pensions as the Government moves a step forward with its controversial NewERA project.
Three so-called 'lots' will be established with 21 consultants appointed that the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) – which oversees NewERA – can draw upon whenever it needs to.
The NewERA project was unveiled in September last year with the aim of raising €3bn through the disposal of state assets including shares in Aer Lingus, Coillte's assets excluding land banks, and some ESB assets.
Half the cash raised will go to pay off some of the national debt, with the rest available to fund job schemes. The NTMA is advertising for a panel of consultants from three separate lots – 10 on corporate finance, six on accounting and tax, and five on pension consultancy services.
It also left open the possibility of going beyond hiring 21, stating it reserved the right to appoint more or fewer consultants as it sees fit.
It also said that appointment does not constitute a commitment by the NTMA to use the services.
An NTMA spokesman said there is no guarantee of work for the companies that are appointed to the panel.
"It avoids the agency having to do a full procurement exercise every time it needs to appoint an advisor to what could be a very small piece of work," he said.
Fianna Fail's public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming said the Government should appoint experts on salaried contracts, instead of potentially having to fork out taxpayers' money on hourly or daily rates.
"The NTMA, and indeed the National Development Finance Agency, should have a range of internal expertise available to them, without the need for external consultants," Mr Fleming told the Irish Independent.
"I accept we want the job done professionally, but NewERA is going to exist for a number of years to come, so people should be coming in on a basic salary, not a consultant hourly, or weekly or daily rate.
"Any people who are to be employed must be on an annualised salary."
The big test for the NewERA project comes in the early stages of next year as Bord Gais has been tasked with finding a buyer for its Bord Gais Energy Retail Unit. The sale of BGE is to be the first privatisation under the programme and is thought to be worth about between €1bn and €1.4bn.
The Bord Gais Energy sale will not include the Bord Gais network infrastructure.
2013 is also expected to be a busy year for the ESB as it has been ordered to sell €400m of power generation assets next year and in 2014.