The West Coast rail fiasco is a lesson for developing countries

15 October 2012
No Más Acidez (tm: Heartburn No More(tm In Spanish! No Competition!="" width="100" height="100" />The swift move by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to “wholly and squarely” lay the blame for the West Coast rail tender fiasco on the Department for Transport (DfT) can be viewed with muffled admiration and scepticism. Forthright condemnations and immediate suspensions relating to such monumental government and civil service errors are indeed very rare - especially in developing countries. Without doubt, the medium- to long-term ramifications will certainly extend well beyond the taxpayers’ bill of £40 million projected by Labour leader Ed Milliband. The supposedly remuneration-related ‘brain drain’ of skilled procurement professionals from the UK civil service suggested by Lord O'Donnell may well be one of the factors that contributed to the farce. But the positive aftermath of this debacle is the two inquiries to be undertaken (what went wrong with the West Coast competition and the lessons to be learned, and the wider DfT rail franchise programme) will - as permanent secretary Philip Rutnam pointed out - “expose the flaws in the entire tendering process”. Hopefully the investigations will also enlighten us on:
  • How many of the task team members and adjudicators were lawyers, financiers and, more importantly, qualified procurement professionals?
  • What percentage of the task team had signed a procurement professional code of practice and conduct with a recognised body representing procurement and supply chain management?
  • What is the average salary of an MCIPS qualified purchaser holding a senior managerial/director level position in the UK civil service?
  • What actions will be brought against task team members for breach of professional and civil service code of conduct?
It is interesting to note that the biggest challenge currently facing governments and private sector organisations in developing countries is the relative lack of highly skilled procurers. This problem is further compounded by the continued derision of the profession and uncompetitive, sometimes pitiful, salaries. The commotion currently taking place in decision-making corridors should hopefully prompt frank and open discussions among policy makers, CEOs and ministers on the total cost of ownership regarding procuring the services of qualified procurement professionals. ☛ Douglas Boateng is CEO of the PanAvest Partnership and a CIPS Fellow.
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