At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
Chair of the committee Sean Fleming, above, raised a matter he referred to as “hiding in plain sight”.
He told the committee that correspondence it received from the HSE had confirmed that PwC were last year engaged to advise the HSE about the Government’s decision regarding what to do about the National Children’s Hospital.
But, two months later, in January 2019, PwC was also paid almost €500,000 to carry out a review of the hospital’s cost overruns.
Mr Fleming said:
“It was inappropriate of the HSE to request PwC to carry out that report given that PwC, at the request of the HSE, only two months earlier were involved in the process reviewing the gross maximum cost and providing their professional and specialist input from a financial point of view to the HSE which led to the decision for the project to proceed…”
He added that it was a “gross conflict of interest” on the part of PwC and HSE were “very wrong” to commission PwC for both reports.
Mr Fleming added that the HSE also knew about the conflict.
He also said that, as Independent TD Catherine Connolly mentioned previously, while PwC wasn’t requested to give any conclusion about the best option for the hospital, following its examination in January, it did anyway and this was to conclude that the project should go ahead.
“Here we have, PwC, in a report, drawing a conclusion, saying that the decision that was made, as a result of their previous, professional input to the earlier decision-making process was the correct decision in relation to proceeding.
“I find it extraordinary…”
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said, it seemed to him, that PwC was paid twice for the same advice.
He also noted that, in the correspondence from the HSE, the HSE stated it’s satisfied there was no conflict of interest.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly asked if the Government knew that PwC had been previously been involved before it was hired in January.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said, in her opinion, such conflicts can cause “corruption of a process”.
She said the committee will likely be told about “Chinese walls” but she said the committee needs to know if the same arm of the company carried out the two reports.
Ms Murphy pointed out that there have been recent news reports in the UK about the over dominance of the four big accountancy firms [namely Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC]
In light of that, she asked:
“Do we design our rules that really don’t allow more entities into that space? I suspect that we make it much more difficult for middle-ranking firms to compete and we need to look at that. Because that would have a bearing on value for money.”
Watch back here