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.