17 December 2008 | Paul Snell
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) needs to investigate the capacity, knowledge and experience of its suppliers further on future projects, according to an independent government inquiry.
The report was critical of the "shambles" that led to the termination of a five-year, £156 million exam marking contract with supplier ETS Europe earlier this year (Web news, 18 August).
Lord Sutherland, who led the inquiry, said that as well as conducting financial due diligence and liquidity checks, the reputation and track record of vendors also needs to be examined.
Although references for the supplier ETS were obtained during the purchasing process - codenamed "Project Tornado" - Michael Gove MP, the Conservative shadow secretary for education gave the inquiry a list of critical press reports regarding ETS' past performance on other contracts.
While it was important to run a fair process, said Lord Sutherland, and using press assertions could have undermined this, additional due diligence may have provided a greater understanding of the supplier.
The report also found the procurement operation should have identified ETS' lack of capacity and resources. If the vendor had been challenged about this it may have allocated more resources to the project and improved performance.
It also said that problems with the bid were identified during procurement but not addressed by the contract manager.
Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families, apologised for the "completely unacceptable" failings. He added the recommendations of the report would be "implemented in full for a new supplier for 2009.