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26 February 2010
Jake KanterThis story in the Staffordshire and South Cheshire newspaper The Sentinel caught my eye. According to the piece, the Stoke-on-Trent City Council has drafted in a new £80,000-a-year head of procurement to overhaul the “struggling department”. The council’s calamitous list of purchasing errors is enough to make any buyer shudder. Mistakes allegedly include untendered contracts and departmental running costs of £314,000 – 2,600 per cent over budget. So you would think the new man Laurence O'Neill would want to herald his arrival with some tough words and promises of change? Well, I certainly did. But as I read on, I was to be disappointed. “Mr O'Neill declined to speak to The Sentinel about his plans for the procurement department,” the story says. Although this is unsatisfying, sadly it is not surprising. During my two years at SM I have consistently encountered this response from new starters. Many have good reasons for not talking to us hacks just after taking on a high-profile role, while for some it’s simply a question of lacking confidence. I won’t second guess if O'Neill is in this latter group, but the fact that Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Ross Irving is quoted instead speaks volumes. My view is that if you’re going to employ someone to sort out major issues, give them the confidence to speak publically about their plans. It seems this confidence wasn’t placed in O'Neill and no detailed response to the problems is set out. As a consequence, procurement looks like the silent, faltering party with a gagged new leader.
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