The swift move by the Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, to “wholly and squarely” lay the blame for the West coast rail tender fiasco on the Department for Transport (DfT), can be viewed with muffled admiration and skepticism.
For the record, forthright condemnations and immediate suspensions relating to such monumental government and civil service “cockups’ are indeed, very rare, especially in developing countries.
Without doubt, the medium to long term ramifications will certainly extend well beyond the tax payers bill of 40M GBP projected by the opposition political leader, Ed Milliband.
The supposedly remuneration related brain drain of skilled procurement professionals from the UK civil service postulated by Lord O’Donnell, may rightly be one of the factors that contributed to the farce.
Nonetheless, the positive aftermath of this debacle is that, the two independent inquiries to be undertaken, i.e.: (1) what went wrong with the west coast competition and the lessons to be learned; and (2) the wider DfT rail franchise programme will, as Philip Rutnam the permanent secretary rightly pointed out, “expose the flaws in the entire tendering process”. Hopefully, the inquiry will also enlighten us on amongst others:
- How many of the task team members and adjudicators were lawyers, financiers, and more importantly qualified procurement professionals
- What percentage of the Task team had signed a procurement professional code of practice and conduct with a recognized body representing procurement and supply chain management
- The average salary of an MCIPS qualified procurer holding a senior managerial /director level position in the UK civil service.
- Actions to be brought against task team members for breach of professional and civil service code of conduct.
It is rather interesting to note that currently, the biggest challenge also facing governments and private sector organizations in developing countries are the relative lack of highly skilled procurers. Nor is this all for the problem is further compounded by the continued derision of the profession, uncompetitive and sometimes, pitiful salaries.
In conclusion, the cacophony currently within decision making corridors should hopefully assist with frank and open discussions among policy makers, CEOs and ministers on the total cost of ownership vis-à-vis procuring the services of a qualified procurement professional!
Dr Boateng is a Fellow of CIPS, Fellow of IOD UK and Southern Africa and current chairman of the CIPS Africa Board. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and President of the Institute of Operations Management Africa and CEO of the PanAvest partnership, a vertical specific human capital development organization.