'Mind-boggling' PR spend plan by state agency
A €7m-A-YEAR state agency is set to spend thousands of euro on a public relations contract next year despite the fact that it is to be merged with another quango which has its own PR staff.
The National Consumer Agency (NCA) is tendering for a new PR contract even though it will be amalgamated with the Competition Authority, which retains in-house staff to deal with media questions, by the end of the year.
Some €550,000 has already been spent by the NCA on PR since 2007. Willie Penrose, Labour's enterprise spokesman, branded the decision to tender for a new contract "mind-boggling".
Since 2005, the quango has retained the services of Q4, a PR firm set up by Martin Mackin, a former Fianna Fail general secretary, and Jackie Gallagher, a former adviser to Bertie Ahern.
The tender document says the quango requires "specialist public relations support" in order to "assist it in the execution of its statutory functions in the area of consumer information, education, awareness and consumer law enforcement".
It also says the winning firm should be able to advise the NCA on "positive outcomes on core consumer issues" and "using expert knowledge of the external media . . . deliver proactive media campaigns".
The 12-month contract would not be awarded on a lowest price basis as cost concerns only made up 30pc of award criteria.
The document says that "depending on the ultimate structure, staffing levels, and budget of both the NCA and the merged entity, future decisions may constitute an external event that could lead to a reduction or increase in the hours worked under the contract".
Mr Penrose said: "I think spending more on PR when there is an anticipated merger, which the minister has promised will happen by the end of the year, is mind-boggling."
"Is there going to be duplication when the merger happens? Why is there a need to hire more PR when it is on the verge of an amalgamation . . . there is going to be somebody there (at the Competition Authority) already who will provide that level of expertise."
Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar said it was "strange" the NCA was advertising for PR in light of its merger. "I wonder if they got the minister's approval for this and if they did, whether it means that the merger is off," he said.
A spokesman from the Department of Enterprise said the legislation for the merger is to be published at the end of the year or early in 2011.