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Ad agency AV Browne ends legal challenge over missing out on £14m Tourism NI contract

By Alan Erwin

Published 17/02/2016

The winner of the contract would help to promote Northern Ireland.
The winner of the contract would help to promote Northern Ireland.

An advertising agency has ended its legal action over being ruled out of contention for a £14million contract with Tourism Northern Ireland.

The settlement of AV Browne's challenge was confirmed at the High Court, with no further reasons disclosed.

The Belfast firm had sued the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in an attempt to be reinstated in the bidding process.

Opening the case on Monday, counsel for AV Browne had claimed it was unfairly ruled out of contention for the contract after a government website froze.

He argued that the agency missed a tendering deadline due to the blockage in the system used for submitting bids.

A judge had been told that amounted to a breach of the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination and proportionality.

The contract, for advertising and design work over a period of up to four years, has yet to be awarded because of the court challenge.

Proceedings centred on the operation of a procurement website run by the Department of Finance.

AV Browne, which has overseen a number of Tourism NI advertising campaigns in the past, completed the first phase of the tendering process.

But the court heard how problems arose when it tried to submit further information in time for the second stage.

A barrister for the agency said that the web portal froze as one of its employees attempted to send the details on an Apple computer just before the 3pm deadline on October 14 last year.

It meant she was unable to enter a figure into a box on the screen.

Because of that the tender submission was not completed in time.

When the blockage freed up shortly after 3pm the tender was not accepted because it was late, the court was told.

It was claimed that instructions on the tender website only dealt with Windows users on PCs, leaving Apple computers at a disadvantage.

However, as the case was due to continue today it was confirmed that AV Browne's challenge was being discontinued.

No order for costs was made between the parties.

A DFP spokeswoman said: “The case taken by A V Browne against Tourism NI (TNI) has been withdrawn today.

"The Department of Finance and Personnel’s Central Procurement Directorate, which provides procurement services to TNI, can confirm that the eTendersNI portal has been fully functional since it was implemented  on 1 April 2015 and is accessible to users of both Apple Macs and PCs.”

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