Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Royalty vulnerable to procurement fraud, bribery and corruption

One of my enduring memories of The Tutors TV series was the gruesome tortures meted out for any form of causing Henry VIII displeasure - a quite literally had to turn my head away from the screen on occasions. In medieval times I suspect the mere thought of the potential punishment and extraction of evidence was an effective deterrent to procurement fraud, bribery or corruption.

Today's Monarchy do not lead in such a culture of fear but news of a palace official facing £100,000 bribery trail demonstrates that even some of the most security conscience 'firms' can be vulnerable to procurement fraud, bribery and corruption.

The allegations are that building ,heating and energy contracts for royal palaces were awarded as a result of bribes. The bribes didn't were not just cash but work done at employees homes 'free of charge'. Needless to say the work, is alleged, to have been completed at inflated rates, some of which subsequently channeled to the defendants.

This case demonstrates no-one is invulnerable to procurement fraud, bribery and corruption. You can read more about your vulnerability here.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Releasing procurement shackles worries for Labour

It surprises me how rarely we actually hear how procurement
will shape the next UK election manifestos. Yet today Sky News, The Financial Times,  and The Times all gave notice that Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, will demand an immediate freeze on new contracts between the NHS and the private sector.  The logic of the argument appears to be that Labour do not want to be shackled by 5 year contracts let under the coalition, should Labour come into government next year. If that's a prelude to the manefestos I dread to think how robust the forthcoming policies will be.

However, is Andy Burnham's call sensible? 
  1. Burnham needs to provide clarity on which contracts should be ring-fenced for freezing. You clearly can't stop NHS contracting completely if you want to make sure the Service functions under a business as usual for users during a future change in political leadership, anyway it would be bonkers to suggest the NHS shouldn't have IT licences, for example, in place. 
  2. The NHS contracts register should be shared with Labour, and the other Parties, so that they can have visibility of which contracts are coming up for review over the coming year. The parties could then policy access those contracts for impact and agree which can proceed As-Is.
  3. Potential contracts which could be impacted by future policy can then reviewed in more detail with Politcial Advisors to ensure their interests are protected, for example, break clauses could be included and means for sharing the cost of uncertainty to providers estimated.
It strikes me that Andy Burnham couldn't possibly be calling for a blanket ban on the award of contracts but perhaps those in the NHS and his advisors need to provide clarity how to protect his interests while avoiding NHS meltdown. Pragmatism is required as opposed to rhetoric. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

is procurement a better route to peace than sanctions

Like so many I am appauled by the deaths of those on flight MH17 who just happened to be
passengers in a plane, in the wrong place at the wrong time - it would be difficult to see any justification for this slaughter of innocents.

Yet the West's response is based on a single tool philosophy, namely, apply sanuctions on Russia, even in the absence of robust evidence that Russia is directly responsible. There appears to be absolutely no evidence that sanctions against Russia work and to a certain extent the West could be both 'cutting of its nose to spite its face' or perhaps in the longer term demonstrating a lack of ability to make any meaningful impact on Russia. Is the objective to penalise or prevent perceived bad state behaviour in the future?

It is also clear that sanctions could backfire and perhaps inflict pain on the 'sanctionor' just as much, if not more, than on the 'sanctionee'.  Perhaps it is therefore time to consider other alternatives.

For centuries the tool of trying to bring about world security and avoid conflict was marriages between the Royals of potential enemy states. The days when that strategy was effective have long gone. I wonder if an alternative would be, rather than impose sanctions, to develop stronger procurement interdependence between states, for example, contracts which create greater reliance on 'buy' from other inter-dependent states who have competitive advantage rather than 'make' within a protectionist independent strategy. Surely in such a strategy state inter-dependence would increase the stakes of conflict, and the greater the inter-dependence on strategic contracts, the higher the stakes. Such a radical idealist approach to the aspiration of 'world peace' would shift from reducing inter-regional trade barriers, like those the the EU to reducing barriers across separate economic trade regions, for example between Russia and the EU, and the EU and Latin American countries.

As I watch the daily news I feel as if we are sitting on the edge of a precipice with potential lethal alliances appearing all over the world. Sanctions have had little impact on so many of the major areas of conflict and are unlikely to have a major impact in the future. We need to consider alternatives beyond the existing toolbox, perhaps procurement and contractual inter-dependence is a tool worth considering.  

Monday, 21 July 2014

Public sector food procurement target - smoke and mirrors or easy win?

David Cameron must be quite excited announcing tha public sector canteens will now be ordered to buy British. And I'm sure the author of The Plan for Public Procurement, Peter Bonfield, is also quite excited. After all the public sector is a major buyer of food and, as we know from the horse meat scandal, wasn't that diligent about ensuring sources.

But hold on a second, we've been here before - wasn't there the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative launched in 2003 which set out in a report some great achievements? Was that evaluation telling fibs?

So, is the Plan for Public Procurement just recycling policy? Is it a challenge to the public sector that the previous Initiative wasn't embedded? Was the previous Initiative sacrificed during the spending cuts? Have the targets already been achieved? What will be different?

As Cameron and Bonfield annouce the 'new' perhaps they should shed some light on the 'old'.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Talking rubbish

I've just returned from a great holiday but whether for good or bad had no internet, therefore no news and no blogs. Hopefully I will be able to share with you some of my holiday observations though over the coming weeks.

Today's news in The Times that 'Councils waste £200m on rubbish bins of all colours' naturally caught my eye. The headline was supposedly based on a report 'Wasted Opportunities' by the Circular Economy Task Force. Too bad the report doesn't provide the evidence to back such a claim up.

But The Times write-up also quotes one of the Report authors, Dustin Benton, who said that "analysis of 40 councils' policies on procuring wheelie bins showed that only two had co-operated on purchasing".  Surely the assumption that councils waste £200m is not based on such a small sample, or was it based on muliplying a potential saving in one council by the number of councils in the UK - sadly we aren't told.

It is also surprising that Dustin (Bin) expected find the answers as to how councils procure wheelie bins through a review of policies on wheelie bin procurement - I have never seen such a policy but have seen the evidence of many councils making use of consortium buying for bins. Why didn't the author ask the question of the local government consortia: "how many councils buy their wheelie bins through your arrangements?"

So yet again council procurement is presented as incompetent - shame that more reliable evidence or a defence wasn't presented.