The stakeholder who says “get lost” and Universal Credit problems

I suspect pretty much any procurement person in a senior role has come across this situation.  A very senior stakeholder basically “doesn’t want procurement involved”. (I certainly had that experience a number of times in various organisations, public and private sector).  There are a number of fairly standard excuses – sorry, reasons – that you will be given by the stakeholder.

  • “This is an unusual project or business, so doesn’t fit the experience or usual model of the procurement team”.
  • “It’s all terribly urgent, so we don’t have time to go through your processes”.
  • “We have the skills ourselves, thanks very much, we’ve got a couple of people who have run lots of procurement exercises before, my PA is great at negotiating, just as good as your so-called CIPS qualified experts...”

You’ve then got two choices – do you fight for that involvement? You can escalate the argument, spend a lot of time and energy, and maybe eventually force a procurement role and involvement onto a grudging client. Who may then try and do everything possible to see procurement “fail” in some sense. Or do you say, “I’ve got lots of other things to be doing, I have limited resource, if they really don’t want us involved, then that’s fine, let them get on with it”.

I remember complaining to a boss years ago that a certain project wouldn’t let me get involved.  “Do you have plenty of other things to be doing”? he asked.  Yes, I said. “Do you think you can really make a difference”?  Well.. this was an obviously a failing project and to be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced that procurement involvement would be able to turn it round.

“Then I’d keep well away” was his advice, which I did. And it turned out to be a good move i that case.

All of this is by way of commenting on the UK Universal Credit programme in the Department of Work and Pensions, which was highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee report last week – a report that  is coruscating in its criticism of the programme.

From the outset, the department has failed to grasp the nature and enormity of the task; failed to monitor and challenge progress regularly; and, when problems arose, failed to intervene promptly. Lack of day-to-day control meant early warning signs were missed, with senior managers becoming aware of problems only through ad hoc reviews.

And procurement / supplier management issues are high on the list of issues. The four big IT suppliers involved – HP, Accenture, IBM and BT – worked largely on a time and materials basis, and there seem to have been some basic failures. More from the report -

 There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers with the Department neglecting to implement basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure.

We saw evidence that purchase orders with a total value of £8.7 million were approved by a personal assistant to the Programme Director. In another case, two purchase orders, one for £22.6 million and one for £1.1 million, were approved by a personal assistant to the Programme Director whose delegated financial authority at the time of approvals was only £10 million. When the Department made individual payments to suppliers these could not be linked to particular pieces of work that had been delivered”.

The programme team worked in a silo manner by all accounts until earlier this year when top management changes were made and the programme was “reset,” as the DWP terms it. At that point, we understand the well-regarded DWP commercial (procurement) function – regarded as one of the strongest in the public sector - got involved really for the first time.  But why weren’t they involved earlier? Well, it appears that their involvement wasn't wanted by the Programme. And, as we said earlier, sometimes you might just choose not to fight certain battles.

But – and be prepared for a surprise here – this does make me think that perhaps something along the lines of the CIPS “licence to practice” idea should apply to major public sector projects and procurement. Really, it should not be an option for a Programme Director to say (s)he doesn’t want professional procurement help, or the Permanent Secretary or CEO to go along with that, when we’re talking public money. Who knows whether proper professional involvement might have helped the situation here – but it is unlikely to have made it any worse, by the sound of the PAC report.

More on this next week...

Voices (2)

  1. Dan2:

    Time and materials basis? An ‘Agile’ basis surely?

  2. Trevor Black:

    I thought it was Paul and not Peter that was converted on the road to Damascus!! Do I detect the hand of another “Sir Humphrey” behind this?

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