CIT orders internal review of $5m consultancy contract as ACT government remains ‘largely unsatisfied’ with response

The board of the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) will commission an independent audit into the latest in a series of controversial contracts awarded to two consultancy firms, after revealing that it cannot currently guarantee that the he $5 million deal represented good value for money.

Last week, the ABC revealed that since 2018, CIT had awarded four contracts, worth nearly $8.5 million, to two companies, Think Garden and Redrouge Nominees Pty Ltd, both owned by the mountaineer Patrick Hollingworth.

According to the CIT’s tenders, the contracts, funded by taxpayers, were for “strategic guidance and mentoring services for executives and staff” as well as to “guide and support the CIT through a period of change. and unprecedented opportunities”.

But Canberra Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee described the contracts as ‘shrouded in secrecy’ and said there were ‘serious questions’ for the ACT government to answer.

As a result, ACT Skills Minister Chris Steel has written to the Chairman of the CIT Board, demanding details of the services provided under the latest $5 million contract and asking the board to ensure that the procurement process is “conducted with the highest levels of probity and impartiality”.

In a response to Mr. Steel, the CIT board said it was up to the CEO’s financial delegations to undertake the procurement process, without the board’s involvement, but said that he would commission an independent review of the contract against the desired outcomes to ensure that “clear milestones” were being achieved.

“In order to remedy this situation, the Board has decided to immediately review the contract in question by means of an independent internal audit.”

Patrick Hollingworth has secured millions of dollars in contracts through his companies, Think Garden and Redrouge Nominees Pty Ltd.(Famous speakers)

in a statement from Mr Steel’s office, an ACT government spokeswoman said that while the government welcomed the council’s decision, questions remained.

“We continue to seek advice on the most appropriate steps in relation to this issue and will have more to say later in the week.”

The audit will determine the future of the contract

The most recent contract awarded to Mr Hollingworth’s company, Think Garden, was signed in March and is valued at just under $5 million.

It is the second of two consultancy deals awarded to Think Garden since 2020, while Mr Hollingworth’s other company, Redrouge Nominees Pty Ltd, was awarded two consultancy deals in 2018 and 2021, for 1.22 million dollars and $512,000 respectively.

CIT chief executive Leanne Cover told the ABC last week that all contracts had been awarded to the best bids received by the institute.

A woman with a blue shirt wearing a white jacket smiles at the camera
CIT chief executive Leanne Cover said Mr Hollingworth’s companies won the contracts in a “competitive market”.(TAFE Directors Australia)

“It’s a competitive market,” she said.

She said Mr Hollingworth’s businesses help to ensure “that as an institution we adapt and change our workforce and our capabilities as an organization to meet the needs of the education sector. and professional training of ACT”.

But in his letter to Mr Steel, the CIT chairman said the future of the latest contract awarded to Mr Hollingworth’s company could be in doubt, depending on the results of the audit.

The ABC has twice reached out to Mr. Hollingworth for comment, but he has not responded.

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