Category: Politics of Procurement

Get Ready Suppliers, The PM has Opened the NHS Floodgate!

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron’s article in the Telegraph on Sunday left a bitter taste in the air for many readers. The PM wants “the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given model of public services” In turn, opening up ALL services to tender, starting with the NHS as a model. Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian on Monday

“…the NHS open to contract by “any willing provider”. Any company can claim the right to provide any part of the NHS – even if the local GP consortium is very happy with the NHS surgeons providing operations.”

She highlights the downside of these open to tender services being “traded as financial instruments, sliced and diced according to risk and sold on.” The 1332 comments to follow the article are a mob of extremely irate voters. The general feel of the readers is distrust for the current PM. One commenter noted, “None of this has been voted for – it is in effect a coup”, another said “the death of Public Services” and one clever suggestion was to “sell the Crown Jewels” to put money back into services! As a whole no one was overly impressed with the news.

As a tax payer, mother and frequent user of the NHS I can’t say I am overly impressed. However, the long time employee of Tenders Direct and the supplier focused side of me, is actually secretly excited for all of our customers out there. The long awaited contracts will be coming in hard and fast, so get ready suppliers; the floodgate has opened.

Is scrapping PQQ’s really a good idea?

The Cabinet Office under Francis Maude, has announced that it intends to eliminate PQQs (Pre-Qualification Questionnaires) for all central government procurements under £100,000.

While I hate filling these things in and find that they are frequently lazily or incompetently written and just as often poorly evaluated, they do fulfil a useful purpose. That is, they avoid the need for suppliers who stand little chance of winning the contract, to complete the full tender document, as well as the need for the buyer to evaluate the full tender from a multitude of suppliers.

I fear that the main result from scrapping the PQQ is that we (the suppliers) end up having to spend many days or weeks completing a full tender, instead of a day or so completing a PQQ, which will then be even more incompetently evaluated by the buyer, as they have a much greater volume to assess.

Surely what is required is a reform of the PQQ process and training to ensure that procurement staff understand what they are doing, rather than engaging in a box ticking exercise? We seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Cabinet Office consultation on public contracts

Cabinet Office sign

In December 2010 the Cabinet Office invited feedback on the effectiveness of the public procurement rules. The purpose of that exercise was to inform the UK’s involvement in the ongoing review of the rules by the European Commission.

The Commission’s review is still underway, and it has now released a formal public consultation paper to which the Cabinet Office is preparing a UK response. Since the Commission’s recent consultation paper is substantially more detailed than the information previously provided by the Cabinet Office, they have extended the deadline for comments until 25th February.

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Modernisation of the European Public Procurement Market

European map with EU stars

Public procurement accounts for roughly 17% of the European Union’s GDP. In times of tight budgets and economic difficulties in many Member States, public procurement policy must ensure the most efficient use of public funds, with a view to supporting growth and job creation. This would require flexible and user-friendly tools that make transparentEuropean map with EU stars and competitive contract awards as easy as possible for European public authorities and their suppliers. With these objectives in mind, the European Commission has  launched a consultation which will focus on the modernisation of the rules, tools and methods for public procurement. The deadline for responses to the Green Paper is 18 April 2011.

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Sir Philip Green’s Efficiency Review ‘Stating the bleeding obvious’?

Sir Philip Green

This week saw the publication of Sir Philip Green’s ‘Efficiency Review.’ My favourite response, apparently made by a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman was ‘Most of it, to use Greenspeak, is a statement of the bleeding obvious.’

As Nick Timmins commented in the Financial Times this week:

‘We have been here before. They all found the same. And it must be said, much of their analysis, and some of their prescriptions, were a good deal more profound than Sir Philip’s somewhat glib 33-page PowerPoint-style presentation. Same analysis. Great headlines. Not a lot of detail on how to tackle it all.

The FT hits the nail on the head, we don’t need some non-dom, tax-exile, retail tycoon to identify the problems, the problems are comparatively obvious. Indeed the way to achieve improvements in the way things are currently done that would save billions are also fairly obvious. The hard part is implementing the improvements, in making sure that any initiatives are communicated all the way down to the frontline staff actually doing the purchasing and then monitoring their behaviour to make sure they are following the new policies.

Sir Philip Green


Public contracts after the General Election

UK Party Leaders

Despite the three election debates, none of us are any the wiser precisely how the next Government will cut expenditure in order to pay off the financial deficit. We know that change is (hopefully) coming that will reduce the size of ‘Big Government’ and while change often brings threats, it also brings opportunities.

UK Party Leaders

UK Party Leaders

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Gordon’s EU Compact for Jobs & Growth

Gordon Brown & Herman van Rompuy

In yet another sign of the growing political significance of public procurement the UK Government today published a compact designed to reinvigorate EU economies and build “strong, sustainable and balanced” growth. Gordon Brown met EU President Herman van Rompuy at Downing Street this morning to discuss the economic strategy, as well as climate change, security and the situation in Haiti.  

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Food Procurement – buy local or buy cheap?

Nick Herbert MP

MP’s have been urging local authorities and other public sector bodies to support local farmers and source their food within the UK. I can only assume this is for contracts under the EU procurement thresholds, otherwise how can public sector bodies award £2 billion worth of food contracts just within the UK? When I initially started this article I agreed, why shouldn’t we get to eat nutritious, carbon friendly, local food? Why shouldn’t the UK get to support their local farmers? It is public money, right? It is not quite that simple, local food may not always be the cheaper or most environmentally friendly option. DEFRA has told us a million times, it is more sustainable to grow and import a tomato from Spain than it is to grow one here in the UK.
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Swedish Court Cancels Armoured Vehicle Contract

The European defence market is changing. Where once each nation maintained its own defence industry, this is no longer a viable model as Europe faces enormous pressure from the US, which has the worlds largest defence market. In August this year, a new European Directive (2009/81/EC) on defence and security procurement came into force. The new Directive brings defence procurement more into line with mainstream public procurement. Previously member states were able to avoid openly tendering for even quite mundane items of equipment by invoking Article 296 of the European Treaty and stating that they were for their ‘essential security interests.’

Earlier today the Stockholm County Administrative Court ruled that a €240 million armoured personnel carrier deal with the Finnish arms manufacturer, Patria, had breached Swedish public procurement law. The Swedish Defense Materiel Administration (FMV) has been ordered to repeat the tender process despite awarding the contract to Patria in June.
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European Commission investigates Glasgow Housing Association’s failure to openly tender

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) is a private not-for-profit company created by the Scottish Government for the purpose of owning and managing Glasgow’s social housing stock. The housing stock, of approximately 81,000 houses and flats, was previously owned by the Glasgow City Council.

Following a poll of the Council’s tenants, the vast majority of their social housing was transferred to the ownership of the Glasgow Housing Association. The transfer was mired in controversy at the time, there was a strong No campaign backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and many commentators doubted that there was a genuine desire on the part of the tenants to transfer to another landlord. However, a condition of having Glasgow’s housing debt written off was a transfer whole stock. This was initially going to be to one landlord, however, the Scottish Government intervened and introduced the concept of Second Stage Transfer (SST) to smaller Housing Associations over time.

Taroub Zahran, the Chief Executive of Glasgow Housing Association, resigned from her position at the end of Taroub Zahran Former Chief Executive - Glasgow Housing AssociationSeptember after what was believed to have been disagreements with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council over the slow speed of stock transfer.

A total of 322 tenants in Glasgow transferred to a new landlord at the end of July following the transfer of homes from Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) to two community-based housing associations under the Second Stage Transfer process.

Provanhall Housing Association took control of 195 homes, and another 127 houses in Hyndland were transferred to Glasgow West Housing Association.

Provanhall and Glasgow West join Shettleston, Ardenglen, Cassiltoun and Parkhead housing associations which took ownership of GHA homes in March this year.

A further 21 Local Housing Organisations who currently manage approximately 19,000 houses on behalf of GHA are still progressing through the various stages of the SST process. Ballots for a further four potential transfers are planned for this calendar year, with transfer potentially by the end of the financial year.

The European Commission, who will have begun their investigation following a complaint, has asked the UK Government to provide further information on how these contracts were awarded as it believes that they were public service contracts and as such should have been awarded on the basis of an open and transparent tendering process. If the European Commission is correct that no open tendering process was conducted, the UK will have failed to fulfill its obligations under the Public Procurement Directive 2004/18/EC.

The penalty for failing to fulfill such obligations is often simply that the relevant member state has to demonstrate that it has taken measures to rectify the situation and to prevent a future re-occurrence. Although sometimes, if it is not satisfied with the action that has been taken, the Commission will ask the European Court of Justice to impose a financial penalty.

In 2004 the Commission sought to impose daily fines against Germany for two long term (30 years) waste contracts that had not been correctly tendered.The fines sought were €31,680 per day for the City of Bockhorn contract and €126,720 per day for the City of Brunswick contract, which would be payable until the illegal contracts had been cancelled. That’s €58 million per year for 30 years!

The German government were in a bit of a sticky situation here, as it was the City authorities that had entered into the contracts and so the Government had no direct authority. Fortunately they managed to negotiate an agreement annulling the contracts.

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