Farcical Ferries U-Turn – Wasted Resource and Effort

Dominating the headlines over the weekend was the scrapping of the Brexit Ferry contract due to an Irish investor withdrawing support.

This is the awarding of the £14 million freight ferries contract to Seaborne, a firm with no ferries, to charter and operate ferries if the UK leaves the EU without a deal! The papers have been having a ‘heyday’ this morning with the headlines, but one of our favourites was from The Herald Scotland with “Tory MPs Urge 'Failing Grayling' To Go After Ferry Fiasco,” saying “Despite misgivings about Seaborne’s inexperience, lack of a working port and absence of vessels, Mr Grayling defended the arrangement until last week … But on Saturday his department said it had become clear that Seaborne ‘would not reach its contractual requirements’ and the deal had been terminated.”

Our other favourite headline was “The Ferry Tale Is Over for Chris Grayling,” from The Times with “Even by Grayling’s standards this debacle has been pretty special.”

The whole affair is an embarrassment for the DoT without doubt, though they were quick to point out that no public money had been handed over to the awarded supplier to date.  Some comfort at least, though those of us in the procurement business, and those of you in the public sector procurement business, know only too well how long it takes to develop tender documentation, how many people are involved, and how laborious the entire process and evaluation process can be.

Wasting so much valuable resource time has its own significant cost. Spending more time researching the potential supply base and entering into dialogue with established sea transportation firms, as to the options as they see them, would have been much more helpful. This fiasco highlights the time to move beyond supplier/customer relationships towards collaborative partnerships between the two parties, let alone for more thoughtful public sector tender processes.


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Voices (5)

  1. better and rested:

    It doesnt matter how good you are as a buyer, you can’t procure a unicorn.

  2. Dan:

    I wonder how much procurement were actually involved. The contracts were awarded without a call for competition, which would indicate to me that no actual tender process was carried out.

    I suspect that higher-level officials at the DoT simply approached two of the biggest (foreign) operators for discussions, decided they needed a third UK operator for appearances sake and found Seaborne. Under time pressures caused by PMTM’s failure to get a deal, procurement were then given the job of making this ‘fait accompli’ compliant as best they could. That’s just my opinion, though.

  3. Michael Angel:

    Whilst no money has been handed over to the awarded supplier, there could still be some money handed over to Eurotunnel who are challenging the award. Seaborne not being given any money is only a small shred of comfort to Grayling. The real cost of this process won’t be clear for some time.

    Looking at the procurement process, again not looking to defend my procurement compatriots, I can imagine they were given very little time or scope to really procure this requirement effectively (poor planning which is often an issue in any sector). Often or not, any pre-procurement dialogue with potential bidders and the requirements as set out in them may have been hurried and thus not able to set out clear exact requirements and from that what is outlined in the tender package may not have been clear enough for robust and competitive bids to be submitted (IIRC only 3 bids were received). The engagement of suppliers comes across quite ‘selective’ given Eurotunnel are claiming no engagement from DoT. I would envisage that the one outcome the main stakeholders on this didn’t want is a ‘no deal’ on any of the lots (quite ironic given Brexit!) and thus leaving the procurement team with little scope to provide an instant viable solution.

    Sadly procurement will take more criticism for this even though actually the pre-planning seems to be the architectural failure that caused a domino effect all the way down the chain. For procurement to be effective (especially public sector) it needs the time to properly be executed. All too often it’s given the least consideration and is treated as an afterthought and merely a process to go through when instead it is much more than that.

    1. Jenny Draper:

      Good point Michael: procurement will indeed take flak for this when the planning phase for such Brexit scenarios in practical terms seems to have been sidestepped.

      1. Michael Angel:

        Absolutely Jenny. This is where potentially given the instability of the political landscape of this country whereby (and I hasten to add I hate endorsing this) maybe they should’ve considered issuing a VEAT notice and awarded to a Supplier for a short term period to enable them to adjust to a post-Brexit Britain and give them time to flesh out the requirement more broadly with the full intention of running a competitive exercise and give that market and the competition the assurances that this isn’t a swerve of the regs. Trying to recall off the top of my head if political instability is covered under the grounds of issuing such a notice.

        Not ideal granted, but for me might have achieved better outcomes.

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