New UK government communications and advertising framework causes a stir

We’re as ready as anyone to have a go at public sector procurement when it deserves criticism, but sometimes you just have to laugh when the criticism gets really silly.

The Independent carried what looks at first sight like a real “scoop” – a government Minister gaining personally from a major procurement exercise! And not just any old Minister, but Francis Maude, who is responsible for the Government Procurement Service (GPS)!

Then you actually read the detail. A particular firm, Devon based Bray Leino, has been successful – along with several dozen others – in getting a place on the set of frameworks for Marketing and Communications Services recently put in place by GPS. The parent company of Bray Leino is the Mission Group, who own 10 agencies, and where Maude was once non-executive Chairman. But he stood down three years ago, and there is no suggestion of any ongoing connection, or family ties, or continuing shareholding. So a firm he has no links with, has got onto a framework that Maude probably wasn’t involved with in even a minor governance or approval role.

“Absolute nonsense”, was the (unofficial) view of a GPS contact of mine. “We’ve not even had a passing comment from this office on this contract as far as I know”.

The Indie also mentions  a firm on the list who employ someone who used to work for the abolished government body, the Central Office of Information. Well, that’s hardly surprising, is it? I suspect dozens of COI staff must have gone over to the provider side. One rival complained: “It is like the examiner writing the questions and then taking the exam – to get 100 per cent marks.” What nonsense – he didn’t actually write the tender, or have anything to do with it, so that’s a really rubbish analogy.

The other part of the Independent story concerned the evaluation process.

“Other agencies are angry that the roster seems to have been selected solely on the basis of price, rather than considering the expertise accrued by some advertising groups...”

Well, tender documents these days are not particularly top secret, so we’ve managed to see some of the relevant papers. It appears that non-price factors had a weighting of 60% (for most of the Lots certainly), with price (and related cost factors) at 40%. That doesn’t seem unreasonable. And here are a couple of questions that bidders had to answer:

Success Factors

At the conclusion of a campaign, how would you propose to measure its success?  Success in this context would include, for example, audience penetration, desired impact, attitudinal or behavioural change, etc.

To obtain full marks, the response must:

(a)   describe the methodologies or processes intended to be used to measure and quantify the success of customer campaigns.

(b)   provide details of the tools and techniques to be employed to produce and validate the results, including any external validation, where necessary or appropriate.

Or what about this:

"Content Creation

Describe how you would evaluate and shape the customer brief prior to commencing work/pre delivery to ensure the final output is designed in such a way that it will deliver a campaign that meets the customer stated objectives.

To obtain full marks, the response must:

(a)   Describe the process you would initiate to ensure you  understand fully the customers brief and how you would  convert this in to a “final” working brief in readiness for campaign implementation and delivery

(b)   Describe  how you would secure acceptance by the customer of your proposed campaign  concept/approach

(c)   Describe how you would identify the appropriate creative direction/content  to deliver  the customer requirements as detailed in the agreed customer brief".

Not exactly "selecting solely on the basis of price" is it?

Now I do have great sympathy for the (no doubt) excellent firms who have missed out on places. We might even question whether central frameworks are the right approach in this category – although this looks like a step forwards compared to the unwieldy old COI roster, which really wasn’t a very good example of best practice procurement.  And obviously it is hard to test pure “creativity” in categories like this. But these (and other) questions seem to me very appropriate and reasonable for this tender.  So why would unsuccessful suppliers tell lies to the press about the process? I wonder...!

First Voice

  1. Gordon Murray:

    I’m sure there is no suggestion that the unsuccessful bidders are trying to demonstrate their prowess in spin.

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