A number of members of Clare County Council raised concerns about difficulties small local businesses may have in tendering for contracts to Designated Activity Companies run by the council.
In a joint motion they called on the council’s chief executive Pat Dowling “to examine the impact on local businesses and suppliers of services who make rate contributions to the County budget and now find that the creation of Designated Activity Companies is having a negative impact on their business and placing them at a disadvantage in regards to the tendering regime for goods and services”.
They also warned that the new situation “has the potential to impact on employment and the loss of jobs in County Clare and the possibility of companies going out of business.”
Councillor Gerry Flynn (Ind) warned that “the small suppliers of services to Clare County Council for many years are now on the hind foot”.
He said these businesses, rate payers in Clare, are at a serious disadvantage. “They cannot compete with the type of people who are out there who can price them out of the market. Yet we depend on these businesses to provide an extreme amount of money to the services of Clare County Council.”
A response from the council executive provided to the meeting was criticised by Councillor Flynn, who said that the problem is real and many councillors are being contacted about it. “We’re not dreaming it up,” he said.
Councillor Flynn said that the DACs are interfering with delivery of services by the local authority.
Sinn Féin’s Donna McGettigan (SF) said that local businesses are being squeezed out, and that the council should practice what it preaches, by supporting local businesses as it urges the Clare public to do.
Councillor Pat O’Gorman (FF) said that since the council takeover of Bunratty, businesses in the Shannon area are afraid that they will lose out. Both Councillor O’Gorman and Councillor Michael Begley (Ind) said that local businesses would be quicker to respond than larger, more distant ones if an issue emerges.
Councillor PJ Kelly (FF) said that he had previously seen “red lights flashing all over the place” , and that DACs are likely to prove very problematic.
“I’m afraid that the worst is going to come. It wasn’t common sense to do what they’re doing at the moment, it was contempt.”
Responding to some of the issues raised, Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling said there were “no red lights”.
He said the motion was in relation to a specific transfer and he said the message shouldn’t go out that the creation of DACs has a negative impact on small businesses.
Following the transfer of Shannon Heritage he said that “we have got to adhere to process, transparency and public procurement laws that we are bound by”.
Mr Dowling said the transfer has been a positive.
“Not only has it ensured its future, it has ensured good practice going forward in how the business is done. We will ensure that because we are a public body,” he said.
He said the council has a number of initiatives to help small businesses and it is happy to look at any problems that exist.
Finance Director Noeleen Fitzgerald said that there are valid concerns, but she said that there is a certain amount of autonomy. However she said that with a public body now having taken over Shannon Heritage, it is subject to greater restrictions than had been the case previously.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.