Construction Tenders

When a local tragedy highlights national public procurement concerns

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In light of the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy that shocked the nation, questions are being raised over local procurement policies across the country. Cost effectiveness and value for money are often the paramount objectives as local authorities continue to face budget cuts. It is paramount however that quality, and more importantly safety, is not jeopardised. Finding the right balance between cost saving and procuring services and products that are fit for purpose is key, but ultimately the welfare and well-being of the end user should be the priority.

Any buyer knows that cost doesn’t necessarily represent value or indeed quality but regardless, detailed specifications are there to be met and for a very important reason. What and who determines the specification, and exactly what this entails, is an important question and something buyers throughout the supply chain must be conscious of.

British safety regulations across many industries tend to be based on principle rather than set rules[1] which can create significant challenges to maintaining consistency and standards. Setting higher standards and adhering to best practice, rather than going with the cheapest bid which meets the specification, is something public procurement officers and regulators must consider.

This reinvigorates the debate over who should set these specifications and regulations. Should they be written by ‘experts’ from the relevant department of the contracting authority, or by that authority’s procurement officers? Or should this role be out-sourced to a third party within that particular industry and sector?

For example and in the case of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there are no regulations stating fire-retardant cladding material should be used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools[2]. However, it has become clear that industry body, Fire Protection Association (FPA), has been lobbying for this to be a statutory requirement within local authorities and businesses.

Within just one area of local government procurement, say for instance housing and more specifically high rise residential buildings, the vast number of tenders and therefore specifications to be met, add to the complexity. Issues around accountability and quality rise as the procurement complexity grows. Combined with a need to cut costs, this becomes a significant challenge to overcome and get right. But get right all parties must.

In coming months as the impending public enquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy continues, more questions on how to improve the public procurement system will undoubtedly follow. Regardless of its outcome, more focus will be placed on the decisions that buyers make, transparency, and who is most qualified to set specifications.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but nonetheless, there are some important lessons our sector can take away from this tragedy. Steps must be taken to ensure buying decisions are not considered a risk factor in the future.

I am keen to find out how you, as Buyers, feel about the responsibilities you encounter on a day to day basis and how you deal with this pressure. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

[1] https://uk.reuters.com/article/britain-fire-cladding-idUKL8N1JD3YI

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/manufacturer-of-cladding-on-grenfell-tower-identified-as-omnis-exteriors

 

 

 

 

 

2 replies »

  1. This is why i chose to get into Procurement; because it has the ability to change lives all over the world. In this case, it could of saved lives. It is a deeply saddening case and unfortunately, this driver to reduce costs as much as possible ends up costing lives of many people. There have been many cases where cutting corners, dealing with non-ethical suppliers (or not ensuring standards are adhered to throughout the supply chain) and not thinking about the effects to all involved all the way upstream, have ended up costing lives. We as procurement professionals must help to change this.

  2. Good to open the conversation to the area of public procurement and outsourcing Emily. However, a local tragedy it isn’t and I question the merits of more outsourcing. One of the most complex areas of the public enquiry will on top of the sobering and harrowing forensic examination of the physical remains will also be trying to connect an audit trail linking all the companies who were involved and their accountability. I hope, but it is probably wishful thinking that Politicians/Councillors whose endless obsession has been to bang on pejoratively about regulations being ‘red tape’ will now be doing some serious soul searching.

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