End of Term Provides Cover for Difficult Government Announcements

We’re now firmly into summer holiday time, here in the UK at least, so you may see some small drop in the number of articles we publish between now and the end of August, unless amazing events transpire in the procurement world in the next few weeks. And of course Bank Holiday weekend you will get the usual Reading Festival reviews as a special bonus for all music-loving procurement professionals!

But if you read us this week you may wonder why suddenly there is a rash of public sector procurement related stories, and why most of them aren’t exactly good news. To be fair, in some cases, this is not about “procurement failure” – the MOD is arguably running out of money, and while you might criticise some aspects of procurement in that organisation, you can hardly blame it for the fundamental underlying challenges and issues with defence spending and management.

The reason for the rush of news stories though is much simpler to explain. It is in the main about minimising the impact of bad news. So announcements are slipped out just at the time when a large proportion of the general public is gearing up for or disappearing off on holiday and Parliament goes into recess, so MPs also disappear from Westminster. That means there is no-one around to ask difficult questions in the House about the latest MOD / probation service / nursery milk scheme / (insert controversial issue of your choice) announcement.

To be fair, there is also simply a sense of “clearing the decks”, and probably some personal KPIs and deliverables for staff that relate to completing work before the recess. It’s that end of term feeling – a combination of relief and panic as you try to tick off everything on your “to do” list before you rush off to your relaxing five-hour queue for Eurotunnel or 3 hour delay on the runway at Gatwick due to air traffic controllers striking somewhere in southern Europe.

But government can be quite sneaky (or worse) at times. Do you remember the awful memo from the government adviser who on the very day of the 2001 Twin Towers tragedy wrote that it is “now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury”.

Unfortunately, that is still the way government thinks and works, and that is true of all political parties. For example, as we pointed out here, when there was apparently good news on spend with smaller firms, there was much fanfare. When it is bad news, it is slipped out very quietly onto an obscure corner of Gov.uk.

I don’t often agree 100% with Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, but she was spot on last week here when she highlighted just how many important announcements were slipped out this time;

“All these decisions will mightily affect many people’s lives and livelihoods – and under scrutiny, more details will emerge. This underhanded skulduggery is a reminder of the value of a parliament holding the executive to account. As a way to conduct government, it is a disgrace: take no garbage from any minister promising “transparency” when this take-out-the-trash deviousness has become an end-of-term ritual”.

So we’ll be a little government-heavy here this week as we take a look at some of the recent announcements with a procurement angle. Apologies to anyone who has no interest in public sector commercial matters, but if you are in the UK, remember this is your money that is being spent!

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