Down the Procurement Beer Festival with Virgin, Carillion, SolarWinds and Broken Witt Rebels

Down the Procurement Pub comes to you this week from the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia, where I have spent the last 72 hours in an orgy of non-stop real and cask ale tasting, interspersed with a few pies, hog roast sandwiches and pickled eggs. OK, I exaggerate slightly… but we were there last night, both for the beer and for the music too, courtesy of Planet Rock, the leading UK rock radio station (the picture shows me, band in background, beer and crisps in hand. Bliss.)

When I think back to where British beer industry was when I started my drinking career, the last few decades is a great story of innovation, entrepreneurship, passion, the power of CAMRA, and even the value of government regulation to help shape markets.

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The Guardian got excited this week about Virgin winning “almost £2 billion worth of NHS contracts over the past five years”.   But these were multi-year contracts, up to 9 years in duration, so looking at turnover of £200 million for the firm in 2017 with 1200 staff suggests this is still pretty small compared to the behemoth that is the publicly owned NHS. The article also mentions the “court action over a children’s services contract in Surrey, with details of the £2m pay-out only revealed recently in their accounts”. But rather than implicitly criticising Virgin for this, what about pushing for more detail on what went wrong there? We still have no idea what the procurement failings were that cost Surrey ( and I’m a council tax payer in the County) all that cash, because my own council won’t tell us.

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New providers have been found for the final Carillion contracts, the Insolvency Service has announced, signalling the end of the first phase of the largest trading liquidation in UK history. Agreements for 278 remaining contracts to be transitioned have now been made, signalling the end of the “liquidation trading period”.

The Insolvency Service has ensured that essential public sector services have been maintained without any major problems in this period, for which we should be grateful, and although there have been 2787 redundancies, 13,945 jobs have been saved and a further 1,272 employees have left the business during the liquidation through natural causes. So I guess “it could have been worse” is the conclusion – although the cost to the economy is still huge and others including pensioners still face some uncertainty in terms of the outcomes for them.

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There’s an interesting article about Blockchain and its applicability in the government sector in particular form Paul Parker of SolarWinds (weird name for an IT services firm), published on the Open Access Government website here. “Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the way government agencies acquire services and solutions, just as it has impacted the way the world’s banks handle the exchange of currency. But, as the financial world has discovered, network monitoring and management strategies play a critical role in blockchain’s success within public sector organisations”.  I suspect Blockchain will prove useful for public sector bodies, but I’m not so sure we quite understand how just yet …

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The headlining band at the beer festival was Broken Witt Rebels, who sound like Kings of Leon with a touch of Catfish and the Bottlemen and a soupcon of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Excellent in other words. This sort of straight down the middle rock is pretty unfashionable these days, (although Kings of Leon are headlining Reading Festival in 2 weeks’ time) but Broken Witt Rebels are pretty damn good exponents of it. A mention too for Bad Touch (see pic above), very strong Zeppelin-like blues rock and simply the best hair I've seen on a band for decades!

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