Firefighters' tender stopped because it favoured a company under investigation

Iturri made "disproportionate" offer to get maintenance contract, says Home Affairs

3 min
Four Fire Department vehicles in the background of the image, with a firefighter in the foreground.

BarcelonaThe saga of the maintenance service of the Generalitat Fire Department's vehicles continues. While the 14th Court of Instruction of Barcelona maintains the investigation for alleged corruption, the Department of Home Affairs has stopped the new tender which sought to fix the irregularities of the past. As ARA has been able to confirm, the Department has announced that the tender – which was in the bidding phase and had not yet been awarded – is on hold because of the bid submitted by Iturri, the company that has so far always provided this service and which the judge is also investigating. Home Affairs says that Iturri has made a "disproportionate" proposal that represents an "imbalance" and that might be decisive to obtain the contract.

When ERC arrived at the Department at the end of May, one of the first decisions it made was to end the contract with Iturri for the maintenance of the Fire Department vehicles. During the handover, the then minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Sàmper, informed him that they had just taken an internal file to the Public Prosecutor's Office that alerted of a 2% surcharge in this service. But as the maintenance of the Fire Department's fleet had to be guaranteed, Joan Ignasi Elena's department awarded four emergency contracts – three of which went to Iturri – while it worked on a new tender. In October the contract for this year's maintenance was put out to tender with a budget of €4.8m.

But while the tender was being processed, the judge also charged seven officials and former officials of the Fire Department and Iturri over the case of vehicle maintenance. Some of those investigated drafted the specifications of the tender to award this year's maintenance and this generated misgivings in the Department of Home Affairs. It already decided a week ago to remove firefighters under investigation from their duties, so they would not participate in the management of maintenance contracts, and admitted that it was considering putting the new tender on hold, as it finally did in order to "avoid any suspicion".

Despite this, the resolution announcing that the tender has been stopped – signed by the Secretary General of Home Affairs, Oriol Amorós – criticises against Iturri's offer. Two other companies had submitted bids for the tender. Home Affairs considers the number of garages that Iturri offers to be inflated: "It is disproportionate and does not correspond, in any case, to a normal behaviour in relation to the existing networks of repair shops in Catalonia", the text states. According to Home Affairs, the number of Iturri's garages – which is not specified – "does not correspond to a real need for maintenance service protection" because "it can actually be covered with a much smaller amount".

In addition, when this number of garages is used to calculate the best offer, this causes "a dispersion" between scores awarded to the companies that have submitted an offer, "magnifying" even more "the distorting effect" of Iturri's proposal. Home Affairs concludes that "there is sufficient evidence" to consider that this calculation – provided for in the bases of the tender – added to the number of workshops "makes a bias appear in the result" to award the contract "that could favor a particular bidder." Even so, the department justifies that "this combined effect is undetectable" when reviewing tender documents because "it does not appear to be a discriminatory factor", but it sees it as "an infringement".

A more different contract

With all this argumentation, the Department has halted the tender launched just a few months ago to award the maintenance of firefighters' vehicles. Sources in Home Affairs specify that it is not clear whether a new similar tender will be launched because they are studying other options for this service, which is under judicial scrutiny.

But in the meantime, Iturri has to continue taking care of the maintenance of vehicles because it is the last company that had the contract. These are minimum services which, according to La Vanguardia, have not been fulfilled because Iturri has stopped getting trucks' MOT passed. Home Affairs sources say that now they have given the order to the fire stations to take over the management of trucks' MOTs – to guarantee that they can be used – in view of the company's refusal to do so.