Tag: bid

Tories will ‘unleash an army of armchair auditors’ to spend money better

Francis Maude - Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office

Francis Maude - Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester yesterday, Francis Maude, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the party would publish online, every item of government expenditure over £25,000 and all government tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000.

The Shadow Minister said that he thought that this would allow ‘an army of armchair auditors’ to crawl all over the governments accounts and not only help them to spend money better, but it would also help to rebuild trust.

This isn’t the first time that politicians have promised to make government procurement more transparent:

  • In 2003 the Better Regulation Task Force published ‘Government Supporter and Customer?’ Recomendation No. 1 was that the government should advertise ‘lower value contracts from across central government and include information on future contract opportunities.’ This set the scene for the Supply2.gov website, which due to a woeful lack of support from the Department of Business failed to reach its true potential and is due to be replaced by a new website implementing the Glover recommendations (see below).
  • In 2005 the Office of Government Commerce and the Small Business Service published ‘Smaller supplier…..better value?‘ which pointed out the challenges facing SME’s and how the government could help by publishing their future contracts online.
  • Also in 2005 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (when John Prescott was still a force to be reckoned with) published the ‘Small Business Friendly Concordat: Good Practice Guidance’ which yet again urged public sector organisations to use their websites to publish ‘details of forthcoming bidding opportunities.’
  • In 2006 the then Scottish Executive published a ‘Review of Public Procurement in Scotland’ authored by John McClelland, which recommended that ‘a single public sector “electronic portal” should be established. Suppliers must be able to access all essential information on opportunities to offer services and bid for contracts for the supply of commodities and services to the whole Public Sector in Scotland.’ This report resulted in the establishment of the rather effective Public Contracts Scotland website in 2008, which is run by the (some say, brilliant) team behind Tenders Direct.
  • Most recently in November 2008, the Glover report or ‘Accelerating the SME economic engine: through transparent, simple and strategic procurement,’ as it was more formally known, yet again, you guessed it, recommended that:
    • ‘By 2010, contract opportunities above £20,000 across the whole public sector should be advertised electronically with standard indicative contract value ranges, and accessible through a single, free, easy to search online portal.’

So at numerous times over the last six years, various politicians, government departments, quango’s and notable report authors have called for more transparency in the publication of government contracts.

The main barrier to progress has definitely been the lack of a clear lead by central government, either to publish its own contracts, or to establish an infrastructure and clear guidelines or regulations to ensure that other public bodies publish their contracts. The secondary barrier has been an unwillingness by staff in local authorities, NHS trusts, etc., to publish their contracts. This unwilling attitude stems from a variety of reasons such as a fear that they will be inundated with suppliers, that they want to keep contracts for local suppliers, that they ‘know’ who the best suppliers are anyway. Provided the procurement activity is approached professionally these fears are either groundless, well intentioned, but illegal and ineffective, or simply wrong. All of them get in the way of efficient procurement, or as the Right Honorable Member for Horsham put it yesterday we need to ‘spend money better.’

 The Department for Business and the Office of Government Commerce have been making some progress towards implementing the recommendations contained in the Glover Report. Unfortunately progress appears to have slowed as the General Election looms closer. At least it seems that the Tories have a similar, if not even greater, enthusiasm to open up public procurement, so that regardless of who wins power next year we should have a new era of open access to government contracts.

UK Construction firms fined £129.5 million for illegal anti-competitive bid-rigging activities

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has fined 103 companies including many of the UK’s largest construction companies such as Kier, Interserve, Try Accord, Carillion and Balfour Beatty for colluding with competitors to rig the pricing of contracts worth more than £200 million.

Kier was fined £17.9m, more than any other building company. Interserve was fined £11.6m, Try Accord £8.3m, Ballast £8.3m, Bowmer & Kirkland £7.6m, Carillion £5.4m and Balfour Beatty £5.2m.

The most shocking aspect is that these are considered to be respectable companies and not the archetypal cowboy builders that we expect to rip us off. And it is us, the taxpayers, that were being ripped off, as many of these construction contracts were for public sector projects, such as school extensions, refurbishment of council housing, new medical centres, etc.

The investigation focused on the practice known as cover pricing, where one or more of the firms invited to bid submits an inflated price, making a supposed competitors bid look more attractive. This gives the client a misleading idea about the real extent of any competition. Indeed in some cases the winning bidder made payments of up to £60,000 to the others that had submitted high bids.

Predicatably some of the trade bodies such as the UK Contractors Group (UKCG) and the National Federation of Builders have called the fines unfair and that they will cost jobs. Is that really the case though, these companies have broken the law and the fines only account for 1% of their turnover. The Public Contracts Regulations allow for companies guilty of such offences to be barred from participating in any future public contracts, so they seem to have got off rather lightly.

It seems Lord Mandelson has personally intervened to ensure that these firms are not blacklisted by the public sector and unusually the OFT issued a guidance note to public procurement staff at the same time that the outcome of the investigation was announced.

Not every commentator has been so sympathetic, even those who are concerned about jobs in the construction sector. Alan Ritchie General Secretary of construction union UCATT, said: “It is clear that construction companies can’t be trusted to run their affairs properly ….. The cover pricing scandal demonstrates why the construction industry cannot be trusted to police itself.”

To Bid or Not to Bid

Selecting the right contracts to go for is critical to the growth of your business. So often we waste a huge amount of time responding to tenders we are destined never to win. It can be due to a lack of resources, limited experience or it simply just doesn’t fit with your core business.

Here’s a quick and effective checklist for deciding whether you should go for a contract or not.

Step 1
Rank your response from 1 to 5, with 1 as the most negative and 5 as the most positive answer. If the total score is below 20, you should seriously consider whether it is worth proceeding to Step 2.

1. Were we aware of the opportunity before it was advertised?
2. Do we know the decision-maker(s)?
3. Do we have a significant technical or other competitive advantage?
4. Have we done an effective job of pre-selling for this project?
5. Do we have a champion in-house who is motivated to win?
6. Have we allowed enough time for preparing the proposal?

Step 2
Answer yes or no to the following Qualitative Factors:

1. Will our price be competitive?
2. Does the opportunity match our target market area and services?
3. Does the project present us with an unusual opportunity to break into a new market?
4. Will the submittal effort be proportional with the expected fee?
5. Is the project consistent with our minimum/maximum project size objectives?
6. Can we make a profit doing this project?
7. If we cannot make a profit, are there any prevailing reasons to want the project?
8. Do we have qualified staff available to perform the work?
9. Do we have the staff and time available to prepare a quality proposal?
10. Do we have the track record/experience for the project?

If you have answered ‘no’ to more than two of these questions, you should seriously consider whether this is the right contract for you.

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