Monday, 12 September 2016

When contract management meets prisons management.

In the face of an obvious procurement performance management crisis in UK prisons, the Prisons Minister has stated "We have robust processes in place to closely monitor and manage the performance of all contractors".  It therefore seems strange that a £200m maintenance contract has been able to take on the appearance of not being managed and it was only when prison officers refused to accept inmates, some repairs made within hours!

Robust contract management process need to be more than just a written procedure, they need to be embedded as a way of working.

To make that happen the contract needs to have explicit standards and a specification of what represents acceptable performance - it is agreement between the provider and client of what they are exchanging. Is that explicit in the prison's maintenance contract?  That statement should have been based on a risk assessment and understanding of the 'front line' - were front line staff involved in defining the standards?

There also needs to be a cascading of the contract documentation down to those who are in a position to know, on the ground, what acceptable performance means. There is little point in a contractor being criticised for poor delivery if they are actually matching what they were asked to price, that could include, for example, schedules of which repairs need to be completed within particular timescales - again risk based.  While Carillion, in this particular case, are being criticised, is the specification part of the contract actually robust?

A contract management structure needs to support the process which sets out who monitors what and the escalation approach. It also needs to have a process where and when client/contractor liaison meetings take place.  Either this was not in place or it has failed drastically for the Prisons Minister to now be meeting with Carillion's senior management to set out the improvements required.

But the Prisons Minister also needs more that a list of defaults to wave in front of Carillion, he needs to have a very clear plan of what he is going to do if Carillion don't make the improvements. Can he terminate the contract and find someone else, for example? If he makes a threat at this stage and then doesn't follow through, he'll be looking for his own 'get out of jail' card.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. I was not aware of these problems, but a quick search suggests they have been going on for some time. Public Sector procurement is a very challenging area to work in.

    I hope that lessons can be drawn from this experience.