Monday, 9 January 2012

The political procurement blame game

Last week Spendmatters exposed the lack of substance behind some of the procurement claims made by Francis Maude.  I had previously critiqued Maude's 'revolutionary speech'  and have expressed a wish that some sort of test was put in place for robnessness prior to these fanfared announcements which are really only compromising credibility.

Today's font page of theTimes headlines a must read investigation into Whitehall waste - estimated to amount to £31bn!  Needles to say procurement does not escape the spotlight, so
it is worth a read. 

However, what grabed my attention was an alleged statement by the influencial Tory, Bernard Jenkin, Charmain of the Public Admisnitration Select Committee.  Bernie believes that a 'quick win' would be to revise the public procurement rules as "The current pre-qualifications rule out the smaller innovative supplier".  Well to me that's yet again good grandstanding and passing the blame, but competely wrong.

There is no 'quick win' in changing EU Rules and the current UK government should know that very well, nevertheless, why did Bernie think that is the case?

What change to the Regulations would Bernie like to see - I personally would be interested to see a draft of the propsed changes he would advocate.

I also would love to know the process for briefing on these statements.  To me there is absolutely nothing in the public procurement rules which dictate an onerous approach to PQQ.  Nor is there any requirement which rules out smaller suppliers.  Nor is there any requirement which rules out innovation.  So what is the perceived obstacle?  To me this is about professional competence - public procurers need to understand the rules, undersatnd what can be achieved and then get on with doing it as opposed to being part of the blame game.


  1. But there is solution:

    Governments are duty bound to spend their taxpayers' money wisely. This means that procurement processes must be sufficiently fair, open, clever and conducted with due probity to ensure that only most competitive and competent suppliers win tenders. This is right and entirely understandable.

    However, this appears to have led to an exponential growth in the procedures used to achieve these goals. Pre qualification questionnaires, framework contracts and tenders themselves are becoming so extensive that only large organisations (with the capacity to employ specialist bid staff) or small / medium sized organisations (which hire in specialist bid writers or who can 'spare the time' to fill in the huge forms) are bidding.

    This is skewing the market and is, I would argue, putting in place inflationary pressures. The result is often, despite the best & most worthy intentions of government procurement staff, the purchasers are often either paying over the odds or contracting with sub optimal providers, or both. (There is also a growing body of evidence that the thresholds and requirements being placed upon bidders, such as having disproportionate levels of indemnity insurance, is compounding matters, and skewing the market even further.)... [more on the link]

  2. The current government came to power on a wave of rhetoric about things that they said could be quickly and easily fixed (and in other cases things that would be left alone to settle down). Political rhetoric being what it is (the art of saying what you think will get you elected), I have been consistently surprised by the government seeming to act in accordance what they were saying before the election. In the procurement sector this often leads to what seems to me rather naive and inconsistent behaviour. Designing quick and simple procurement rules that allow for innovation and small suppliers, whilst obtaining economies of scale, ensuring quality standards, combating fraud and corruption, minimising administration, confirming legal compliance, managing risk, and complying with EU regulations is (as they say in the physical sciences) not trivial. It will take a huge amount of thinking - which if it is doing it the government is keeping quiet about, whilst playing to the media with simple stories.

    The most noticable example is the Bombardier case. There are a lot of issued raised by this - DO other EU countries interpret or apply the rules differently? Can we change our procurment laws or interpretation without leaving the EU? Would favouring UK companies lead to inflated prices and poorer standards in the UK? Would informal trade barriers become formal export barriers? Would actions would our trading partners take against us (e.g. the USA)? Why are Canadian companies with operations in the UK preferable German companies with operations in the UK? Would the net effect benefit or damage the overall UK economy? As they say on exam papers - Discuss. However the government prefers to grandstand on such topics rather than engage. It is just as pitiful as Gordon Brown's "British jobs for british workers".