The problem with public procurement


Yesterday was a bit of a challenge for at least one small images (209)business in Sussex. A major public sector purchasing consortia has just published its criteria for a national framework agreement that we had been waiting for for several years while the previous one ran its course. Here we hoped was the opportunity to be included in the list of approved suppliers for a significant number of educational institutions in the South East, all of which are our potential clients. Our business has grown substantially over the last few years, we have taken on new staff and have the potential to take on more subject to our order book. Sadly the criteria set has excluded us from participating and so apart from the benefit of not having to commit countless hours over the next month to a process that we may have been unsuccesful in, we will need to find other ways of promoting our business. This is not the first time we have fallen outside of the criteria set by such a consortium. Last time we met all of the criteria apart from one, we lacked a quality mark known as ISO9001. Because of the limited time given to get through these processes, and the time it takes to legitimately achieve ISO9001 we had to remove ourselves from that process, despite having made a significant investment in time before the obstacle was fully understood. This time a different but very similar consortia has not set any external quality requirements at all, so the fact that we now have ISO9001 was of no help at all. However because this group is organised across the UK as a whole, they have been forced to set much higher expectations in terms of existing turnover. This is despite the fact that we are not intending to offer our services nationally, a point they claim is not a barrier to being accepted. The tragedy is that their approach will in essence favour companies willing to send engineers far further for work or to use sub contract labour to fulfil their commitment, an approach that is known to be be problematic in our industry. The downside for our business is evident, we would argue that this also means that the new framework will lack the choice and local suppliers that the educational establishments would really benefit from. The real frustration is that the criteria is set without any real prospect of doing things differently, and it will be 5 more years until this particular framework will be renewed when the same challenges or new ones will occur. It is vital that our Government and the public sector more generally spend longer understanding the businesses they claim to want to promote when they set procurement targets and ambitions. The assumption that businesses will adapt to meet unrealistic and inefficient business models may be realised, but the loser will be you and me as tax payers.

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About ianchisnall

I have a passion to see public policy made accessible everyone who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as in policies on health services and strategic planning.
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