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Shedding Light on the Shadows

Posted by John Cutt on October 26, 2016

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For those of us who enjoy scaring ourselves stiff with fictional nightmares, the run up to Halloween always sees a welcome upsurge of horror films on the television schedules. In the archetypal “haunted house” story, an inexplicable and increasingly threatening paranormal force torments the unfortunate victims. As with all good storytelling, our empathy for the characters derives from our own hopes and fears: we can be suspicious or even fearful of things we don’t understand, and this fear of the unknown leaves the fictional characters – and the viewers – feeling insecure and powerless.

Sometimes, though, the victims turn the tables on their tormentors by learning to fight back. With the right resources and assistance – silver bullets, holy water, mediums or exorcists – even the most terrifying ghoul can be cast out.

Just like a haunted house, the real world can sometimes be unnerving and disconcerting. Brexit – whether it fills you with hope or dread – has swept away old certainties and created a future filled with potential pitfalls and possibilities. For now, the level of access UK suppliers will have to the EU market – and almost everything else about the final deal and it’s consequences – remain frighteningly unclear.

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Like a terrified victim in a horror film, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of uncertainty. As the old gives way to the new, do you cower under the covers and hope for the best or pluck up the courage to face down your demons? Like a vampire hunter arming themselves with silver bullets and wooden stakes, we should seek out the knowledge and expertise needed to defeat the mysterious forces undermining our confidence.

Millstream can’t protect you from things that go bump in the night, but we can certainly shed light on the shadows of public procurement and clear the cobwebs away. Do you find bid writing frightening? Does the ESPD give you the heebie jeebies? Our team of experts includes procurement professionals and experienced bid writers who know how to take the fear factor out of public sector tendering.

If your first or fiftieth bid fills you with foreboding, our newly updated training courses can help you to cast out the evil spirits holding you back. Our consultancy services have a success rate of over 80%, and 98% of delegates who attend our training courses would recommend them to others. So, if your company is haunted by a lack of experience or success in bidding for public contracts, Millstream could be the silver bullet you need.

Happy Halloween!

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Confronting collusion in public procurement

Posted by John Cutt on September 13, 2016

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Back in June, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) published an open letter to procurement professionals announcing new guidance and learning resources designed to help combat collusion between suppliers bidding for public contracts. Along with a text summary, the new resources include an e-learning module and some admirably accessible and informative animated videos. Unsurprisingly, this development in the battle against illegal anti-competitive practices received a warm reception in procurement circles, with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply and the Local Government Association making the resources available to their members. This move can be seen as a small but positive step forward in efforts to protect the public sector’s reputation as a fair and transparent place to do business and should be applauded.

 

We last touched on this subject in 2009 following a round of fines imposed by the Office of Fair Trading (superseded in 2014 by the CMA) on over one hundred construction firms found to be guilty of bid rigging. The size and stature of many of the companies involved was surprising: not so much dodgy purveyors of rickety garage conversions, more a who’s who of premier league construction companies. Some in the industry expressed concern over potential job losses resulting from the fines, but we felt that these sanctions were not overly punitive when framed as a percentage of turnover. Indeed, some of the firms had their fines reduced substantially under the CMA’s leniency policy in return for confessing when first confronted.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Wales: a clarification

Posted by John Cutt on July 6, 2016

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After drawing Wales in the Euro 2016 office sweepstake a few weeks ago, I may have inadvertently given the impression to my colleagues that I was in some way not utterly ecstatic at the outcome. I now accept that my use of various profanities and the term “unmitigated disaster” may have misconstrued my true feelings on the subject. I am happy to clarify that I have always had the utmost confidence in the Welsh national team, fully expected them to make it to the semi-finals as a minimum and consider it a privilege to have invested £2.00 in their endeavour to stay in Europe (albeit for football and binge drinking only).

Although Millstream specialises in public procurement rather than football punditry, we have been impressed by the interest shown by some attendees of the tournament in our area of expertise: it was particularly gratifying to see a fringe element of Remain supporting England fans attempting to stimulate French public sector expenditure by facilitating massive overtime payments to the Gendarmes and street sweepers of Marseilles and Lille. Faced with a wave of criticism after the abject humiliation of his team of spoilt divas being defeated by plucky Icelandic amateurs, England manager Roy Hodgson reluctantly agreed to face the media despite being privately encouraged by Boris Johnson to follow his lead by abdicating all responsibility for the outcome.

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Watching the weather change

Posted by John Cutt on May 23, 2016

As we all realise to our horror that developing a beach body in time for summer is now completely out of the question, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that cold weather is now firmly behind us. With the exception of those of the ski holiday inclination, our experience of life is undeniably lessened by the harsh winter months. Perhaps the miserable success rate of the solemn resolutions we make to ourselves at the turn of each year has more to do with January being an inopportune time to enact behavioural change, rather than a personal lack of willpower: cravings for unhealthy snacks are more difficult to combat while enduring sub-zero temperatures, a glass of wine never so tempting than when stuck indoors on a wintry evening. But as we wake to sunshine and birdsong instead of darkness and rain, personal renewal feels more like an urge than an effort. Imagine you had felt as energised as you do on a day of blazing sunshine and outdoor activities when you were lazing on the couch gorging on chocolate in the first months of the new year… you could have had a beach body by now.

One of the pleasures of this time of year is the spectacle of the previously barren natural world flourishing with life and colour once more. In the countryside, fledgling crops of all kinds grow in the fields as farmers hope for a bountiful harvest in the autumn. While some of us may be inspired by springtime in our own efforts to grow, farmers are beholden to the seasons in a material sense. While the ancient endeavour of agriculture was initially driven by subsistence, in modern times it is an industry like any other. While most of us do not make a living from the soil, the acquired wisdom of a veteran farmer can be of use to a company in any sector: sow only the finest seeds, plant varied crops in different fields, use ever more efficient and productive techniques. Above all, avoid over-reliance on the same field lest the nutrients be drained from the soil. Like farmers, we would do well in our personal and professional lives to learn the lessons of past harvests and change our methods accordingly.

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Where is the love?

Posted by John Cutt on February 12, 2016

This weekend, millions will take part in the annual celebration of love and commitment that is Valentine’s Day. Vows and promises will be made; hopes and dreams will be shared. There will be fine dining, expensive presents and special moments. Meanwhile, some of us will cower alone in our bedsits, recoiling from the grotesque displays of happiness on our news feeds. Displays of love, however, are not the sole preserve of romantically involved couples. It is often said that love is based on respect; showing respect can be something as simple as making time for a friend, complimenting a colleague on a job well done, or being kind to a stranger. Maintaining high standards of behaviour in our professional and social lives – showing a little love, if you will – is the cornerstone of a civilised society.

This is not merely an issue of social cohesion: there is a solid business case for companies to actively promote a culture of respect in their internal and external relationships. In recent years, the concept of corporate social responsibility has become increasingly prominent in many organisations, with substantial emphasis placed on health and safety, security, sustainability and equality in the formulation and implementation of procedures and processes. Awards and accreditations in these fields – along with the provision of various employee-focused schemes – have become the norm in the business world. Accordingly, developing your organisation in these areas is not merely about prestige: it is about maintaining a competitive edge. Public sector organisations have led the way in this respect; at Tenders Direct we see frequent procurements for services such as quality assurance and accreditation, employee assistance and counsellingemployee engagement and corporate values, benefit schemes and teambuilding events. More than ever, public and private sector organisations are recognising the material and cultural advantages of an enlightened approach to organisational management and development.

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The commercialisation of space

Posted by John Cutt on December 17, 2015

In case you hadn’t heard – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is released in the UK today. We decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up without a related blog entry. NO SPOILERS are included below…

Recently I was intrigued to discover a contract notice entitled “Space Mission” published in the global hub of space exploration that is Swindon. Alas, it was not a design and build contract for the Death Star. Instead, UK Shared Business Services were seeking a contractor to assist in opening up the US space sector to UK entrepreneurs. While the private sector has always provided the logistical backbone of space flight – hugely successful conglomerates such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing flourished as suppliers to NASA during the Space Race – humanity’s reach for the stars is increasingly facilitated by private contractors. Indeed, there are growing indications that commercial interests may ultimately replace the quest for scientific knowledge as the primary driver of innovation in the space sector.

NASA now outsources its unmanned supply missions to the International Space Station to California based contractor SpaceX. Retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011 left a capability gap for manned flight; with a replacement platform still some way from fruition, NASA now depends on Russia’s Federal Space Agency to transport its astronauts to the ISS. Reliance on a foreign rival is seen by some in the US as damaging to national prestige and has undoubtedly catalysed the development of private sector expertise in space flight technology. NASA’s decision to award contracts for manned crew rotations to the ISS earlier this year to both SpaceX and Boeing – provisionally scheduled for 2017 – can be seen not only as an attempt to reinstate domestic capability, but also a pragmatic reaction to budgetary pressures. NASA – like so many public sector bodies – has recognised the monetary benefits of outsourcing and the potential of private investment to drive innovation. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – a bold attempt to apply the business model of commercial airlines to orbital flight – epitomises the drive to transform space travel into a profit making enterprise.

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Remember Remember Your Tenders in November!

Posted by John Cutt on November 3, 2015

Alone with his thoughts in the dank cellar below the House of Lords, Guy Fawkes imagined the display of pageantry that would occur above him when King James I arrived later that day for the State Opening of Parliament. This war veteran from Yorkshire, however, had a very different spectacle in mind: the detonation of 36 barrels of gunpowder directly beneath the King’s feet. With James dead, Fawkes and his fellow conspirators hoped to instigate a popular uprising and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. He just had to remain undiscovered for a few more hours…

A noise… his heart skipped a beat. Footsteps!

It’s fascinating to think that the actions of a few individuals in the distant past can continue to influence our lives centuries later. In his moments of introspection in the cellar, Guy Fawkes probably didn’t imagine that his effigy would be burned as part of a widely recognised annual cultural event over four hundred years after his death; he surely wouldn’t have had the remotest idea that an extensive publicly funded supply chain would be required to make it happen!

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