Sir Humphrey Explains the CCS Consulting Framework

(With thanks as ever to Jonathan Lynn and Peter Jay, the brilliant writers of the immortal BBC comedies Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister).

 

Good morning, Humphrey.

- Good morning Minister. I have bad news for you – I need to talk to you about procurement. I know that’s not a subject you’re particularly interested in ...

No Humphrey, I don’t really know why you keep bothering me with it

- Well you are officially the Minster for Procurement now. You do remember, after the last reshuffle …

Oh yes, sorry. I do rather keep forgetting. Bit of a nuisance, really.

- Well, we have a small problem. The Crown Commercial Service …

Sorry?

- The Crown Commercial Service. The central buying organisation for central government. It reports into you, Minister.

Does it? Really? Is that good?

- Not necessarily. But that is an indisputable fact Minister, so we will have to work on the assumption that it is your responsibility.  In any case, CCS has let a contract for management consulting services.

Jolly good!

- Indeed. Now it is split into lots – I won’t bore you with what that means Minister, don’t worry – and one Lot is designed specifically so you and your colleagues can engage your friends – I’m sorry, I meant engage the large consulting firms – without too much trouble.

Sounds sensible Humphrey. By the way, how is that terribly nice chap I met at your club, the one you play tennis with, he’s a partner in McBKPEYC isn’t he?

- Well, yes Minister, he is fine, but I do hope you’re not suggesting I would allow that relationship to affect my decisions on letting large strategic consulting contracts, Minister ...

No, no, I wasn’t suggesting anything of the kind Humphrey! Just making conversation. Anyway, do go on.

- As part of this tender, we stipulated that the bidding firms had to show evidence that they had carried out contracts to a value of £5 million. Just to show they could handle large pieces of work.

Sounds reasonable.

- Well yes. But this blogger chap has pointed out what he laughingly claims is a logical flaw in this carefully designed process.

Really?

- He says that one firm might charge £2500 a day and work on a project for 2000 person days – perhaps in a health trust or for an MOD Agency. That would give a cost of £5 million. But another firm might do the same work exactly in the next door trust or Agency, charge £1000 a day, work for only 1000 days, for a cost of £1 million – and actually get better results. So they would deliver measurably better value.

Yes, well that would be good, wouldn’t it?

- Well, no, because then we wouldn’t allow them to bid for the contract, because we have said they must have carried out a project of £5 million cost. But the first, more expensive firm would be allowed to bid.

But surely that’s just ridiculous Humphrey. It is, isn’t it?

- Minister, the problem is in the constraints which are imposed based on the legalistic interpretation of the EU procurement regulations and our legislative duty to apply qualifying conditions in an objective and factually evidenced manner rather than considering the intrinsic merits or otherwise of the consultants’ performance in a spirit of veracity and outcome-based delivery.

What?

- The rules mean it is easier to just set a limit, rather than asking CCS to apply their brains and look at value rather than cost, Minister. And now we have the press getting interested ...

Yes, yes Humphrey - so what do you suggest? I mean, this is just rewarding firms who charge a lot of money, and punishing those who don’t. Surely that’s not what procurement is supposed to be about?

- Minister, that is a rather naive comment if you don’t mind me saying. In the case of professional services, procurement is about making sure your colleagues and senior civil servants can carry on using  the huge consulting firms they know and love, and of course even may end up working for one day. And a few million hardly matters in the greater scheme of things, does it? These firms do a jolly good job, too - well, most of the time.

So what are you proposing we should do, Humphrey?

- Nothing Minister. I just wanted you to be aware of the issue given the slim chance that as the Minister responsible, some questions might come your way. But ultimately, this is only public procurement. No-one really cares these days. And if it is raised, just blame the EU rules.

Really Humphrey? Are you sure?

- Yes, Minister.

Voices (2)

  1. Charlie Middleton:

    Interesting to see that this morning CCS posted a message to bidders on the new framework trying to pretend they care about SMEs and address the criticisms about the framework structure. Except that they didn’t actually address them.

    Instead they focused on how easy it is for SMEs to get on Lot 1 (conveniently ignoring that you can only add a service filter for where you have worked previously which is totally anti-SME).

    They said it worked for micro-SMEs which it does as long as they have £5m of insurance cover, Cyber Essentials certification and agree to support apprentices.

    They talked about 45% of the suppliers on Consultancy ONE being SMEs – but ignored the fact that 64% of the work on that framework was awarded to the Big 4 firms (PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG) and 80% was awarded to those consultancies plus PA, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group (see https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_relating_to_consulta for details).

    And they kept silent about Lots 3 and 4 rather than confessing how badly these are skewed to the big firms.

    Sir Humphrey would be proud about how they have put out a message to keep the Press Office happy that they are doing something whilst at the same time it is business as usual.

  2. Trevor Black:

    Brilliant! Sums up Whitehall’s approach to procurement. Does anyone remember what happened to Arthur Anderson? I understand he died of a toxic ailment called cosy corruption but it is believed that no remedy has been found for the virus which may already be in the UK.

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