Bristling Brock speaks out...

 

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A headline in a newspaper today reminded Bristling Brock of the continuing lack of national interest that exists within the public sectors procurement policies.  The particular story was to do with naval ships - there is a floating contract worth £1.5 billion to supply three support and supply ships to keep our aircraft carriers fully functional on their travels.  The invitation to contract these vessels is open to just about any country in the world - including Russia and China - to bid for, and the most likely winner of any such bidding fracas will be the one that offers 'the best value for money'.

Our public procurement dynamics are wed, and indeed welded, to the notion of front-end cost being the determinant of many purchases contractual commitment.  Never mind the through life costs, inflationary cost uplifts or the costs of jigging the product specifications about - and believe BB when he says that this is by no means a rarity - or the add-on costs that contractors suddenly seem able to apply once they are too far down the line for the contract to be withdrawn - does CrossRail sound familiar, or HS2, or the two aircraft carriers themselves and the extraordinary fumbling over which aircraft to put on them ?  These are the tip of the iceberg, the big capex projects that we actually hear about.  Behind the less public scenes are a myriad of public sector purchases that boggle the imagination in their documentary complexity, their lack of product understanding, their determination to fit a square peg into a round hole and their unshakeable conviction that the price they press for offers a genuine value for money usage of public funds.   The result, of course, is that seldom do any significant public sector purchases offer true value for money if the only measure of acceptability is front-end price alone.   The scrutiny of bidding proposals that are geared to a 'price win' is unbelievably poor and invariably ends up as a rolling inflation of costs as the contract unfolds - current events bear that out.   The removal of a contract once placed is anathema in the public sector - such a circumstance would reflect badly on the procurement checks and balances (hah, hah to that) and become a public humiliation for the department and individuals involved.  "Woe betide that, chaps, we must protect our interests with the deployment of multi-layered obfuscation counter-measures to any criticism of us spending umpteen times as much as the original deal stated".

Let us see who wins the naval contract - hopefully not the Russians or Chinese - and let us watch over the next dozen or so years just how much these procurement fiasco's really cost us both in terms of £'s but also in terms of lost investment, employment and skill loss in British companies.  Bristling Brock regrettably sees absolutely no signs of any procurement policy change in our governments approach to what it purchases but we must concede that the system encourages the least scrupulous bidders from the commercial world to exploit the gaping loop-hole - no surprises there.  Root and branch reform - yeah !   By 2120 perhaps....

Trumpland is becoming something like Alice's view through the looking glass.   If bizarre was ever a word to be associated with weird, extraordinary, zany, and many others, then the US seems to be well described by them all.  From gun toting protest mobs, to incredibly poor policing judgements, to fractured societal divides, to obsessive 'wokeness', to political affairs that defy even the most liberal commentary the US has them all.  And it's not just on the Rupublican side of the fence.  The Democrats, mere weeks away from what ought to be their most crucial campaign, sit dithering and passive, devoid of any gusto that resonates with anything real in this La La Land.  The image to the outside world is almost beyond words and whilst we all must acknowledge the impact of the corona pandemic, the stories emerging from the US speak of a level of chaos and bitterness that hasn't really been seen there for generations.   Something has gone significantly wrong, yet whilst we gape with incredulity we should be aware of the exported contagion (and BB does not mean corona) that has already afflicted much of the western world as we see our own societies under threat from a newly diversified social structure and set of values.  Some sage once said, "What happens in the US will eventually come to us !"  Never a truer word...