Friday, 9 December 2011

Political ownership of risk management and procurement scrutiny

If there has been one mantra since the coalition came to power regarding public procurement, it has been that transparency in public procurement is paramount - hold on to that context for a few minutes.

Yesterday I discussed the procurement of the NHS IT system and argued that if we really wanted to learn from the experience we had to move beyond criticising the procurement but instead probe what went wrong with the application of Gateway Reviews (  Now we find that the risks of failure were concealed from MPs - this echoes the defence of David Steele when he was asked to account for the procurement problems with the building of the Scottish Parliament, he said the civil servants concealed the true state of the project from politicians.  Politicians clearly have to be in a stronger position to scrutinise and, I would argue, be a part of Gateway Reviews or see those reports.  Elected members need to be fully appraised of risk assessments if scrutiny is to be effective. Is there a potential script being written here for a Christmas Special of 'Yes Minister'?

Furthermore, today we've learnt that the NHS will not respond to a FoI request on the fiasco. How does that fit with the transparency mantra? What's changed?

Well, allegedly the FoI request cannot be acceded to in case the supplier who has been unable to deliver to contract (for example, 3,128 defects) suffers a fall in their share price.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but should share price not reflect company strength and long-term sustainability?  Do public procurement specialists not consider financial stability when awarding contracts? Is it not the responsibility of the supplier to argue when bidding the grounds for non-disclosure of commercially sensitive aspects of their bid, therefore did the supplier argue when bidding that in the event of such a catastrophic failure to deliver they would prefer no disclosure would take place regardless of the UK public interest in achieving value for money?  How on earth can we collect lessons learnt, in line with the UK public sector best practice, if secrecy prevails even when a procurement disaster has struck? If I was a public procurement practitioner and was carrying out a supplier appraisal on the supplier, would the NHS suggest all is well and let me waste more money with the supplier?

Background reading
Kennedy, D., Pitel, L., and Hohmann, I. (2011) 'Dead wrong, the software that NHS says it just cant't discuss', The Times, 9 December 2011, pp.19-20.
Pitel, L., Smyth, C. and Kennedy, D. (2011) 'American 'cowboys' blamed for NHS fiasco', The Times, 9 December 2011, p. 1 and p.19.

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