A game on a different field

6 December 2010
“Foul ref – don’t you know the rules?!” screams the crowd. His response is dismissive. A few minutes later the final whistle blows; the score is 2-20. Supporters, including princes and premiers, trudge home heads bowed, venting their anger on the airwaves. As an experienced procurement professional, I watched the World Cup bidding process with interest, while at the same time reading a number of articles and letters criticising public sector procurement bidding processes. These criticisms range from it being too bureaucratic, time-consuming and expensive, to poor pricing, lack of innovation and more, but never have I seen them described as unfair. Yes, there have been cases where the sector has been on the wrong side of legal judgements – not as a result of unfairness, but interpretation of regulations and laws. In the aftermath of the recent decision in Zurich, let’s imagine the bidding process as though it had taken place within the public sector. First, the bid would have been advertised to everyone, and perhaps there would have been a pre-qualification where the business status and commercial strength of potential bidders was examined. It would have also considered health and safety, the number of employees and environmental and quality assurance aspects, as well as ensuring taxes were paid, and that there was no evidence of collusion or corruption. In addition to this, several referees would all have been assessed at an early stage. And, don’t forget, bidders would have been told what the vendor selection process was, and that would have eliminated a few countries. The tender would have been issued to selected bidders with a plethora of terms and conditions, processes to be followed, certificates to be signed, and more. Bidders would know the evaluation criteria, weightings and sub-criteria; they would be told how to send in requests for bid clarity, and know that if they or another bidder sent in a question, the answer would be sent out to all. The Freedom of Information Act would be mentioned for good measure, meaning bids – subject to a bit of judicious editing – would be available for all to see. When the award day arrives, a ‘dear sir’ letter would be signed and sent with the caveat that your competitors have the right of appeal if they think the process was flawed. A couple of weeks pass and the contract is closed; perhaps there is a quiet celebration by the winning bidder. For the others, they can make an appointment to discover the strengths and weaknesses of their bid. They are then left to commiserate, but with the satisfaction of knowing that it didn’t cost them several million pounds. If public sector processes had been applied, would the beautiful game have been played on a different field? I suspect it might have been. * Derek Nash is an independent procurement advisor
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