Friday, 10 June 2016

Were procurement voices heard at Bristol's European Green Capital?

I'm sure it will have escaped many of you that Bristol was the European Green Capital in 2015. The Times have just revelled some of the £12m of procurement's involved:
  • £37,000 wiring a tree with a sound and light system activated by falling beechnuts, only to discover that it was predictably going to be a lean year for beechnuts; 
  • £49,200 creating an artificial fog over footbridge;
  • £84,000 for life size wicker sculpture of whales;
  • £5,000 for a guest speaker;
  • £3,800 for pies provided to guests at a launch party;
  • £25,00 for a 'happy cities' survey;
  • £6,000 for a circus group;
  • £18,000 for use of 'Shaun the sheep' image on promotional materials;
  • £1,000 a month for a press-cuttings service.
Now let's assume that proper procurement policies were in place and processes complied with - although we know that often 'arms length' bodies feel they are beyond that.  Let's also assume that there was some benchmarking to ensure that the various deals represented good value for money.

The previous Mayor of Bristol claims the year was a "massive success". Unsurprisingly, others don't agree but is that criticism justified? There must have been a strategy for the year and that should have drilled down to the various event components - those responsible for governance had a responsibility to ensure that was scrutinised and justified and not just 'rubber stamped'. It would have been good if that plan had been published and consulted upon as that would have deflected some of the later criticisms.

It would also have been good if the initiative were subjected to an independent outcome assessment - that would have demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits gained - the ratio of cost to benefits.

As with so many of these types of initiatives money was pooled from various big funders: £1m from the City Council to pump-prime, and that brought a further £7m from the government £3m-£4m from the private sector.  I actually know nothing about the governance structure which was put in place, but to me, Bristol City Council probably came out on top. However, I would like to have seen a pro-rata allocation of influence at the governance table based on the funding provided - those funders had real 'skin in the game' and needed to be clear these were procurements they had confidence in as opposed to rubber stamping, of worse, giving without control. I wonder how many procurement voices were heard at that table?

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