For many years, procurement has occupied a Cinderella place within corporate structures, especially within the public sector and central government which, despite overt multi-party commitment, has consistently failed to invest adequately in the vendor selection discipline.
Complex bids such as those which result in rail network franchise contracts require forensic analysis to ensure ultimate value for money.
The recent Virgin/First Group tender review concerning the West Coast franchise allegedly reveals shortcomings in assessments of passenger numbers, inflation and risk assessment, resulting in flaws in the “recommendation for award” made to ministers.
While ministers must be held ultimately culpable, their primary guilt is not that they rubber-stamped flawed recommendations, but that they have persistently failed to construct competent procurement machinery viz people and process, necessary to provide cost effective solutions for the UK taxpayer.
The utter shambles the Department for Transport (DfT) made of running the West Coast rail competition raises concerns about the wider rail franchise programme. In the private sector (except for banks) there would be sackings but, although some are suspended, the civil servants will simply be reassigned and retain their fabulous pensions.
I do, however, have some sympathy for anyone trying to follow the Byzantine rules of a procurement process set up during the watch of the micro-managing Gordon Brown. Given highly specific and inflexible terms of reference, they were probably ordered not to question either the rules of the game or any bid beyond its most obvious gaffes.
I recall reading the DfT’s specifications for high-speed train replacement and wondering, as a physicist, whether an engineer had even glanced at it – so other inadequacies exist.
(Dr) John Cameron
THE announced revision of the tendering process over the West Coast rail line doesn’t surprise me. When he was opening Edinburgh’s Norton House Hotel at a breakfast party in 1987, I cheekily asked Virgin boss Richard Branson: “What’s the secret of becoming a millionaire?”
He looked up to the ceiling, thought for a moment, and said with a broad smile: “Never take ‘no’ for an answer.” I don’t doubt the present situation is a result of his following his own advice.
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