How to identify a high-risk supplier – Cabinet Office works out details

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has agreed mechanisms for officials to identify high-risk suppliers where “material and substantial underperformance is evident”.

On his blog Spend Matters, Peter Smith has published parts of a letter from Maude.

Where under-performing suppliers are identified “departments will be asked to engage with the Cabinet Office at each stage of any procurement process involving the affected supplier to ensure that performance concerns are taken fully into account before proceeding”.

The implication is that the Cabinet Office will draw up a blacklist of bad suppliers which departments will take account of when buying. Smith says that two suppliers are already on the blacklist.


For more than 20 years the trade press has identified the same suppliers in a succession of failed or failing IT-based projects but poor performance has never been taken seriously into account.

This is usually because the suppliers argue that the media and/or Parliament has got it all wrong.  Departments, it appears, will always prefer a potential supplier’s version to whatever is said in the media or in Parliament.

The Office of Government Commerce, now part of the Cabinet Office, kept intelligence information on suppliers but it seems to have made no difference in procurements.

It is unlikely the Cabinet Office’s blacklist will rule out any suppliers from a shortlist. As Smith says, suppliers will claim that any problem was all the fault of ministers or civil servants who kept changing their minds, were not around to make key decisions, or didn’t understand the nature of the work.

But still the blacklist is a worthwhile innovation. At least one big IT supplier has made a habit of threatening to withdraw from existing assignments when officials have refused to revise terms, prices or length of contract. The blacklist will strengthen the negotiating hand of officials.

The challenge for Maude will be persuading departments to take the blacklist idea seriously.

Peter Smith, Spend Matters.

5 responses to “How to identify a high-risk supplier – Cabinet Office works out details

  1. What a hoot of an idea!

    However we do have the NAO which on a number of occasions has made explicit statements re a certain supplier not being given any more public sector contracts because of the frequency and scale of their past failures and what does a certain Whitehall department do via its Quango and said Quango’s ill-informed Czar? You guessed it – give said supplier an enormous contract. Did said Quango / Czar combination enforce any of the contractual penalties? No.

    I have much respect for Mr Maude and his way of thinking but by the time it gets down to civil servants who have to implement his or the PAC’s ideas / thoughts, they seem to become very civil and very servile but in respect of the supplier (I have witnessed this first hand in the corridors of the House and from the CIO of CfH).


  2. I suggest that any company name
    whose 1st letter is an I and last letter is an M;
    or C and A;
    or G and S;
    or E and S
    should be barred!


  3. Good point – and Robert Devereux has some clout as permanent secretary at the DWP, Whitehall’s biggest department. Given EC procurement rules procurements have to be open and fair. On the other hand public servants have found ways in the past of choosing the supplier they want. So perhaps they can find ways of avoiding the suppliers they don’t want?.


    Q151 Mr Bacon: Are you seriously saying that you could not take into account the fact that A4e had dreadful performance in the immediate predecessor programme or one of the immediate predecessor programmes?
    Robert Devereux: ” …no”


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