Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Make or buy train sets

There was a time when every boy (or perhaps his father) wanted his own train set. I had one but it was a torture putting it up, trying to get it to work and then putting it away. I never really found  enjoyment watching a train going round and around and around in circles.

Perhaps the joy was in gaining ownership or putting things together which worked. But imagine the joy which must come if you're a train enthusiast and able to tinker with a real train, not just any train, but the 'big daddy' of them all, 'The Flying Scotsman'.

Perhaps the opportunity to own and tinker with the real 'Flying Scotsman' was just too much a temptation for the National Railway Museum.

Anyway, in 2004 the museum bought the real thing for £2.3m. Then, in 2005 they recognised the need for repairs, which they estimated would take one year and cost £250k. Now, in 2013, the repair work has cost, not £250k but £2.89m. That, in turn, has diverted funds from other areas, and indeed from the wider public purse. The hope is that the 'Flying Scotsman' will be operational in 2015 - that's quite a delay for what was a record breaking locomotive. As part of that journey it is now thought a decision will be taken on whether or not to 'buy' the remaining repair work.

Recently I applauded Liverpool on its decision to call a halt to a procurement which wasn't going to be delivered on time or budget. While I congratulate the National Railway Museum in questioning whether they should outsource the repair work, answers should be sought why a red line hadn't been drawn earlier, why the total costs of repair hadn't been better estimated in 2004, and why a robust 'make/buy' options appraisal wasn't carried out in 2005 regarding the repairs? It would also be useful to make sure that the current make/buy appraisal is robust and risk assessed. Have wider social objectives also been considered, for example, using the repair work as a training scheme or even using volunteer enthusiasts as potential repairers?

But I wonder when make/buy decisions are made, if there is a wider issue - could there be innate bias within our DNA which leads a buyer towards 'buy' and a techie towards 'make'?

Setting that aside, ironically, the 'Flying Scotsman' saga has some resonance with yesterday's blog on Glasgow's George Square revamp. There too a timely options appraisal was absent.

Perhaps there's an even bigger issue though, namely, are procurement specialists even involved in these decisions early enough to make a difference or at all?

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