• Manchester University FT admits 10-year contract with consulting firm was never tendered
  • Has spent £5m on Castor Business Consulting from 2011 to 2022
  • Trust has asked for external review into the arrangements, following HSJ enquiries

A major trust has launched an external review into a decade-long consultancy contract that was never subject to a public tender process.

Manchester University Foundation Trust’s decision appears to have been prompted by questions from HSJ following a series of freedom of information requests.

According to the trust’s spending data, around £5m has been spent with Castor Business Consulting over the last 10 years for work relating to private finance initiative schemes.

Mike Beevers

Mike Beevers

The firm is run by former PwC consultant Mike Beevers, who for eight months was also an employee of the trust.

FOI responses stated the contract had never been tendered and was awarded through a “trust waiver”. According to the trust’s own procurement policy, this must be approved by the board of directors. The trust has declined to state whether board approval was given.

HSJ first submitted questions to the trust in April 2021, asking if the contract had ever been tendered given the amounts spent with the company over the previous decade. The trust did not answer directly but said it had complied with all applicable procurement processes.

An FOI request was then submitted in September 2021. In this same month, the 10-year-long arrangement with Castor appears to have changed, as Mr Beevers was then employed as deputy director of estates and facilities for eight months until April 2022. Payments to Castor appear to have ceased during this period.

In a formal response, the trust then acknowledged the contract had never been advertised publicly, saying a waiver had been used annually to procure the services. It said it was expecting to use a procurement framework to purchase the services from Castor in future.

But a subsequent FOI response stated this never happened, and the trust said it stopped needing the company’s services in 2022.

When approached with further questions in November 2023, the trust said “robust procurement policy was applied at all times”.

But after more questions were submitted, seeking clarity on whether the board had approved a trust waiver, the trust last week released another statement, which said: “We have commenced an external review into the engagement with Castor Business Consulting which will report back to a future board of directors meeting.”

It added: “The work undertaken [by Castor] was time-specific and fundamental in facilitating essential project requirements to assist the formation of [MFT]. As such, we no longer required the services of Castor and they have not worked for the trust since 2022.

“Castor Business Consulting provided a range of professional services to MFT primarily via commercial arrangements and, for a time-limited period, this included cover for individual vacant posts. Mike Beevers was employed on a part-time basis from September 2021 to April 2022.”

The trust said Mr Beevers did not wish to provide additional comment. According to its latest annual accounts, Castor has six employees.

Its website says it offers “tailored support to either establish, develop or run an informed and intelligent contract management function in order to maximise the intended benefits and original vision of the your PFI. Our core team have previously been embedded directly into internal contract management teams and have the knowledge and experience to advise on all aspects of effective PFI contract management.”

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