On the wrong track

9 August 2011
The recent decision by the British government to award the £1.4 billion Thameslink contract to Siemens rather than to Bombardier, its UK-based rival, has far-reaching consequences for the 1,400 Derby-based workers facing redundancy. Two aspects of the news coverage of the event stood out for me. First, there was the apparent lack of emphasis placed by the government on the resulting job losses at a time when most large corporates are expanding their approach to responsible procurement beyond the staples of environmental impact and worker welfare. The government, however, chose not to reflect that trend in its decision-making process at all. Second, a significant element of the decision seemed to have been made because Siemens is more able to provide the financing to build the trains. While this is an important factor when money is tight, it doesn’t seem sensible to put it ahead of other factors. If press reports are correct, it seems the Siemens bid had offered an incomplete and untested design of the 1,200 axles (bogies) for the carriages. This is a high-risk approach, with cost and time variables likely to be put under pressure. Siemans said last month, though, that the bogie it will use on Thameslink is based on proven subsystems. From the outside, it’s hard to understand a decision that seems to be based on cost or financing alone. It is, therefore, not surprising that at the time of writing the government is under considerable pressure to reverse its decision.   * Sticking with the theme of unfathomable government decisions, a recent interview with Richard Alderman, director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), highlighted an interesting dilemma. Just as the SFO had expanded its remit to include the investigation and prosecution of overseas corruption cases under the 2010 Bribery Act, it has had to cope with a 10 per cent reduction in funding. At a time when instances of fraud are on the increase (the SFO caseload, for example, has tripled in the past three years), it seems a bizarre move to stretch resources even more thinly than is already the case. The SFO is focused on finding ways to do more with less, but there is concern that it will need to step away from investigating the more resource intensive and potentially messy high-profile and complex cases. Individuals and organisations alike have self-regulated their behaviours because they fear being caught and the possible repercussions of prosecution. Despite this, as procurement officers, we still uncover or identify fraudulent activities because we have a unique insight into and across the organisations we work in. Many times, however, it is simply the process we follow or the transparency that we strive for that ensures fraud doesn’t happen on our watch. I cannot help but feel that the government’s cuts in this area have just made our jobs that little bit more difficult.
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