Farmers claim they were misled by government over the appointment of a company to run the island’s wool service.
Brannach Olann, a UK registered company, was appointed as external contractor to run wool control in 2021.
Before that date, it was operated in-house by the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture, which collected, graded and stored the wool before sending it to the UK to be auctioned.
But the Manx NFU became involved in 2022 when many farmers complained that they hadn’t received payments on time or at all.
The DEFA announced in a press release in 2021 that ‘Brannach Olann have been awarded the contract to operate wool control’.
It said this followed an open tender process which came after ‘extensive feedback’ from the union and sheep farmers.
But when the Manx NFU made a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the contract, it emerged that the expected – detailed and signed – contract did not exist.
Instead, the DEFA had gone through the Quick Quote process which is usually reserved for low-value procurements.
The department said in its initial FoI response that it didn’t hold a copy of the requested contract.
It said: ‘The services for management of wool control was procured through the government electronic tendering process.
‘The agreement between the department and Brannach Olann include a Quick Quote, a Quick Quote response and a department purchase order.’
Following a second FoI request, DEFA supplied the Manx NFU with a copy of the Quick Quote request and the Quick Quote response in which Brannach Olann’s managing director Alan Walsh formally offered to supply the service.
That document is not signed. Neither document sets out in clear detail the specific responsibilities and payment obligations.
When the union requested a review, seeking clarification that there was no other written agreement or official documentation between the two parties, DEFA confirmed that no further information was held.
It said that on further investigation, there was no purchase order ‘due to the zero value of the agreement’.
The successful tender had identified that all costs would be recovered and so there would be no cost to the government.
‘The department apologises for any confusion this may have caused,’ DEFA added.
Sarah Comish, general secretary of the Manx NFU, told the Isle of Man Examiner members had felt misled by DEFA.
She said: ‘It was obvious that due diligence had not been followed, and that the department had subsequently managed the “contract” very poorly, effectively washing their hands of it even when it became problematic.
‘When it became evident early on that the process was failing, at cost to farmers, we asked that whatever arrangements that were in place be terminated, and that, if the department would not take it back ‘in-house’, then alternatives be sought.
‘Instead the department has opted to do nothing, and we are now in a worse place than ever.’
Brannach Olann says it has sent a majority of payments to the DEFA to distribute to farmers.
But in a written reply to a Tynwald question on May 25, DEFA Minister Clare Barber – who referred to there being a three-year wool control ‘contract’ – said 88 farmers had been compensated for 2021 but 17 were still to get a payment for that year.
And she said 117 were still to be compensated for 2022, although some payments had been made but specific details were not available.
Mrs Barber said her department was working with the contractor and stakeholders to ‘ensure an effective service is in place for 2023’.
In a statement, the DEFA said: ‘The department in May 2021 appointed the current wool contractor after placing a quick quote request on the government procurement website.
‘The successful contractor was issued the correct contract documents which included the Isle of Man Government standard terms and conditions for the purchase of goods and/or services.’